What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You (and Your Culture)

By Guest Post

Open plan offices are increasingly becoming the norm with startups. Dreaming of a corner office? Better look somewhere else. At thredUP, we have an office-less workplace. That means I’m constantly right in the middle of the action, and the team. It’s easy to maintain open lines of communication when people are having conversations all around you.

Sure, critics claim that open plan offices are a breeding ground for distractions, but it’s a small price to pay for 100% open, authentic communication.

To combat distractions (and I’m not talking about Facebook Syndrome), I make a ton of lists. Lists of lists. I’ll often rewrite the same list throughout the day just to lockdown my priorities and what needs to be accomplished. It’s something my mom did, so I think I was just inundated with it –but it works!

However, open plan offices are just the first step to uncovering what you don’t know. What I’ve learned using 15Five is that there’s a difference between overhearing conversations all day and really listening to what your employees have to say.

Hearing vs. Listening: There’s a Difference

I’ve always considered myself in-tune with my team. Before 15Five, I spent about 10 hours a week on an informal reporting schedule. I’d check-in with my team from time to time, but it was an imperfect system.

I realized that I was out of touch with how important certain things were to certain people. I was hearing the conversations day in and day out, but I wasn’t really listening. Sometimes the connectivity we feel in an open plan office is deceptive, as occupying the same close quarters daily can give off an impression of intimacy.

Understanding what matters to your people and why is huge. It’s what cultures are built on. It’s often surprising just how much people care about the things you gloss over. And, unfortunately, you won’t likely find out unless you ask.

Now, when using 15Five optimally, the “five” part of 15Five is really only the minimal amount of time business leaders should be spending on each employee’s report as the more time invested in processing and reacting to the information, the greater the results in the end. But the value of learning about what’s happening at thredUP, about what’s important to the team, is huge.

Ideas We Didn’t Know We Had

You won’t likely find out unless you ask. I’m always surprised by the good ideas people have. And the ideas run the gamut from creative and fun to serious business issues. It’s very refreshing.

With such open lines of communication in our workplace, you’d think these ideas would surface throughout the week. But they often don’t. It’s amazing what you can discover if you just take the time to ask and listen.

If you don’t ask, you might never know. And that could really hurt you and your culture in the long run. Your team will feel empowered with a channel to openly share their ideas. You’ll end up fostering a culture of creativity and innovation (no matter how creative and innovative you already feel).

Refocusing on the Vision

Along with helping us discover new ideas, 15Five has helped the team acknowledge both the things they’ve accomplished and the things that they’ve pushed back.

It might seem that there are a thousand online tools for this sort of thing. Sure. But, what makes 15Five powerful is the ability to ask customized questions, the ability to get to the core of what employees care about.

The number one question for thredUP is:

What should everybody on the Executive Team know about what’s going on in your world?

The answers are always varied. They help me wrangle everybody and get them focused on the same problem or opportunity. We want to ensure we’re always focused on the vision, always pushing it forward.

Don’t Let Your Open Floor Plan Fool You

It’s easy to assume everything is on track. You already know all of the big ideas your team has. You already know they’re on target and completing all of their to-do lists. You already know they’re focused on the vision.

False! There is a lot you don’t know about your team, a lot you won’t know until you ask! And what you don’t know is hurting you and your culture, one day at a time.

About the Author

James Reinhart is the CEO and co-founder of thredUP.com, the nation’s leading marketplace for buying and selling 2nd hand clothing. James is a serial entrepreneur and recent graduate of the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School where he was both a Bill George Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership and an HBS Goldsmith Fellow. Prior to HBS/HKS, while working in the Bay Area, he helped build one of the nation’s premier public schools, Pacific Collegiate School – recently named the #3 school in America by US News & World Report. He is a product of New Jersey public schools and Boston College.

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