My attempt at alliteration in the title was intentional. While “babble” may be defined as incoherent, I am using the term more loosely here to describe candor, conflict, and collaboration that all good teams and organizations have as a fundamental part of their culture.
I recently read chapter four of Ed Catmull’s book Creativity Inc. It’s the chapter on honesty and candor. In it he states in part that candor should override hierarchy and “you don’t want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or matters of policy are being hashed out.”
There shouldn’t be more candor in the break room than the boardroom.
We’ve all been there. “Conversation” happens in the meeting and depending on what you paid attention to and remember from that body language expert key note address at that last business conference you went to you aren’t sure whether or not people are thinking what you are thinking about the initiative currently being discussed. To yourself you think “why are we doing this?” “I don’t understand how my team and clientele are going to benefit from this change.” “I wish someone would say something.” “Am I the only one annoyed by this goal?” Management seems to be doubling down on their interest in this initiative and you aren’t going to be the one to tell them their idea is flawed. The meeting ends and you go back to email and getting stuff done.
But then there’s the break room and all of a sudden you find yourself enraptured in a conversation with colleagues that seems a little gossipy, but you actually relax more than you ever could in the meeting as you first cautiously, but then freely offer your opinion of where you think management might be going wrong. After a cup of coffee and a bag of chips from the vending machine you head back to your desk wondering if everyone is just passive-aggressive for never being able to communicate in formal meetings like you always seem to be able to do with colleagues in the hall and between cubicles.
Here’s the deal. This article is for leaders to take note of one simple fact. If the hallways and water coolers are safer spaces to chat than in your meetings, you’re doing it wrong. This is your problem for not creating an environment where ideas and concerns can be shared freely regardless if it’s a formal meeting or in between jokes while everyone has a square of John’s latest Texas sheet cake recipe in the break room. Ask yourself, what am I doing (or not doing) that prevents people from feeling like candor is safe in front of me or other organizational leaders?