The Din of Organisational Silence – Di Worrall @DiWorrall

The Din of Organisational Silence

Slackers: The people at work, who contribute the minimum necessary, yet seem to get by. Everyone knows who they are but the workplace wall of silence and fear means that no-one confronts them directly, instead venting their frustration and resentment through whispers in the corridor and around the coffee machine.   Dealing with negative impacts of “slackers” in a work team is but one of many chronic organisational issues perpetuated by a culture of organisational silence that is afraid to confront important issues lest there be recriminations against those who take a stand (Accountability Leadership, 2013, Di Worrall).

In a healthy workplace culture, employees rely on colleagues to be proactive because improving processes requires the expression of new ideas. In a culture of fear, visibility can lead to scapegoating; better to let your colleagues stick their neck out and attract the attention.  Such “organisational silence” results in stymied innovation, if not paralysis.  An article in the Harvard Business Review by David K. Williams and Mary Michelle Scott, December 10, 2012, addressed fear’s inhibiting effect. A study demonstrated that only three percent of employees surveyed were free of fear in the workplace. Of that three percent, fear of making a mistake was the number one concern.

Successful leaders, however, must rely on their peers and those around them for feedback. They must break through the din of organisational silence and be open to hearing criticism; encouraging those who are willing to provide it. Without a safe, risk-sharing environment an organisation cannot evolve or effectively create new products for the market.  Feedback and mistakes are crucial to the learning and development process. Developing a culture that tolerates and even encourages mistakes is a healthier environment and one that is conducive to creativity.

Loose cannons so to speak, though they can be a liability, are necessary in an organisation because they are willing to initiate discussion on difficult topics. An article by Vivian Giang that appeared in “Business Insider” reports on Jim Donald, CEO of Extended Stay America. He became CEO after the company emerged from bankruptcy. At the time he realised that staff were fearful of losing their jobs so he introduced Monopoly-style “Get out of jail, free” cards to encourage risky ideas and creative behavior.  Employees could act on their creative impulses without penalty and were even held accountable at review time if they had not used their cards.

Whatever the method, a culture where employees are not afraid of recrimination will boost the innovative and creative power of an organisation. In a competitive marketplace, risky is the new safe.

Post by Di Worrall

Award-winning Business Transformation & Strategy Consultant, Best Selling Author, Executive Coach

Find out more about the link between high performance and high accountability in Di Worrall’s latest #1 Amazon best selling book: Accountability Leadership – How Great Leaders Build a High Performance Culture of Accountability and Responsibility (2013) at

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