The manager’s paradox of filtering information versus transparency

Alex Bochannek

Engineering Manager, Site Reliability Engineering at Google



"In every team I've worked in as a manager, there has always been information passed on to me that I've decided not to tell my team at the time. For example, I remember my boss telling me about a potential reorganization that would affect my team, but that predictably did not take place. On the contrary, there is information that I try to emphasize to my team."

Actions taken

"I try to keep in mind that your team is made of real human beings and most of them are looking for some psychological safety in their job. Until things are real and/or actionable I try not to bring unnecessary instability. In some cases, information is confidential and simply cannot be passed on. Announcing a team reorganization with no further information before it's decided on would only have a negative impact on the team, especially if the organization has a history of not following through on planned organizational changes. Transparency is often stated as a strong company value. This does not mean that everybody needs to know everything at all times, but that information is communicated openly and honestly, and that accountability for decision-making is well established. This can leave a manager with a paradox: transparency vs filtering. I tend to try 'filtering down' information the same way I would 'filter it up'. Another way to look at this is that it is the manager's role to summarize and abstract relevant information in a timely manner. But being a manager is not only about being a filter, it's also about being an amplifier. I can remember a product decision made at the top that would directly impact my team (the decision was made to not proceed with a product's development). It might have seemed like a small decision to my management team, but it strongly affected my team. It was my role to amplify and explain the information and the reasons behind that call. It was also my role to amplify my team's messages (i.e. their concerns) upwards."

Lessons learned

"A manager has to handle a lot of information coming from his team and from higher up. Managing this information flow is a critical responsibility. Each message is destined to be passed on in some way but good managers need to learn to amplify and filter information depending on the consequences. There is no rule, it all depends on the context of the message, the company culture, and ultimately on the individual people. Some people might be fine with uncertainty whereas some others require safer groundings."

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Alex Bochannek

Engineering Manager, Site Reliability Engineering at Google

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentLeadership TrainingFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionSkill Development

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