Talking behind someone’s back can get you fired at Bridgewater. If you have a problem with someone, you must confront them and sort it out. The corporate culture is devoted to frank assessment of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.
You can see why this might be important to functioning as a close-knit team, and to personal development. Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio is famous for what he calls Radical Transparency. There is even an app for that.
In most work places everyone is working two jobs. The first is whatever their actual job is; the second consists of managing others’ impressions of them, especially by hiding weaknesses
Some people think Dalio is a crank, but the movement seems to be gaining adherents. Shopify posts employees’ strengths and weaknesses on the company wiki. In this interview, founder Tobi Lütke sounds exactly like Dalio.
We are all … personal-growth junkies. So we really committed to giving each other feedback, and we’re trying to expand that to the entire company.
Personally, I like the direct approach. I have worked with people who prefer to sulk silently, plotting revenge or whatever, instead of laying their cards on the table. This is unhealthy, as well as unproductive. If you find yourself mentally rehearsing what you should have said, or what will happen “next time,” you need to get that off your chest, and damn the consequences.
If you tell someone, “you screwed this up because you failed to do X,” you begin a productive dialogue. Maybe he has never been trained in X. Maybe he chose Y instead, for a reason. Maybe Gartner Group just wrote a white paper on X, and it’s deprecated.
On the other hand, I can see radical transparency being limited to certain kinds of teams, like investment analysts and mountain climbers. It requires people who are already high performers, committed to raising the bar, and mature enough both to give and to receive criticism properly.
Most people have a hard time confronting their weaknesses in a really straightforward, evidence-based way. They also have problems speaking frankly to others.
This is where Dalio’s idea diverges from Radical Honesty, the self-help program of author and psychologist Brad Blanton. Blanton advocates brutal honesty from everyone at all times, which strikes me as impractical, even comedic (like the movie The Invention of Lying). A more practical book for business people is Crucial Conversations.
The other thing that struck me about the Lütke interview was his remark that companies are evolving, still finding the right way to organize. This I can believe from my long experience working with startups, and reading Tom Peters. Companies certainly need less hierarchy and more authentic teamwork. We will have to start being honest with each other.