The Transparency Trap

by Ethan Bernstein

“TRANSPARENCY” is a watchword in management these days, and it’s easy to understand why. After all, if people conduct their work in plain view, won’t they be more open and accountable? Won’t they flag and fix problems more easily, and share information and their good ideas more freely?

That’s certainly what I expected to discover a few years ago, when I went in search of empirical evidence that transparency improves performance in organizations. But through rigorous field research and experiments, and observations by embedded researchers, I learned that it’s not that simple. My findings, which complement various studies on open workspaces, suggest that more-transparent environments are not always better. ...

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