“there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know” 

Donald Rumsfeld

Leadership Is a psychological journey

When it comes to leading teams, we all know that culture is king. As team leader, you may be the elephant in the room, and you may not even know it.

What is needed is a method for gathering robust team culture data on a regular basis.  Yet there is a fundamental challenge. Given your powerful position you may never really know what people truly think and feel. They will consciously and unconsciously skew their feedback to suit their level of safety, or their personal agenda, or both. Leaders attract all kinds of projections from colleagues. However benign you believe yourself to be, because you have power people will adapt what they say and how they say it.


Because you have power people will adapt what they say and how they say it

The poorer the psychological safety of the group, (the confidence to speak up without fear of retribution) the more game playing there will be. Because much of the projective game playing is unconscious, it makes things even trickier to get to the truth of what your team really think and feel. Without clarity, performance will always be below what it could be. 

So what is the way out of this conundrum?


The importance of anonymity

A bit like a whistleblower, each member of the team needs to be able to highlight what is and isn’t working for them as individuals and as a team, but to do so in a safe way. In fact more than safety, your team’s culture needs to welcome honest feedback as a fundamental management input. What is in the open can be worked with, what remains hidden can only be guessed at.

An obvious approach is to enlist the help of an independent consultant/coach who can ask the right questions and ‘hold’ the group process to generate the safety required and explore the issues which arise. Putting the time and expense of consultancy aside, clearly anonymity is a problem here. Who is going to raise their head above the parapet and ‘tell the truth unto power’? Too much can be perceived to be at stake.


However much you as leader say you want people to be open and honest, without high levels of safety, this is unlikely to happen.

That’s where a feedback tool that guarantees anonymity is so valuable.

In developing We-Q, our online team survey web app, we didn’t appreciate the importance of anonymity at first. In early versions, the data was clearly ascribed to named individuals. We thought that by linking the data to the individual, trust would grow and progress accelerated. This did happen, but only for teams that already had high levels of psychological safety, or where the team leader was particularly enlightened and benign. In the majority of cases lack of anonymity caused people to score the 20 questions in the mid ranges so as not to be an outlier. A bit like not seating yourself in the front row of a stand up comedians live set!

This deprived the team leader and or team coach of reliable data and led to insipid team culture conversations.

That’s why We-Q is now robustly anonymous, and we make a point of saying so. A much more diverse range of data now magically appears.


We-Q makes the invisible stuff in teams visible.  To learn more about it check out www.we-q.com