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Is Honesty the Best Policy in Your Team?

In this blog post, we look at the importance of honesty within high performing teams and how a feedback culture can help to shift the mindset of your team to one of complete transparency. As markets become more saturated it is vital to look at methods that will give you an edge over competitors but is honesty really the best policy?

Within most teams, the answer to better performance and well-being lies within existing team members. However, this is never revealed because there is not enough honesty or commitment levels are low.

If you conducted a quick straw poll, you’d find that unhappy teams or poorly ranking ones had either low levels of honesty or members had widely differing views on how honest the team was. Therefore, the importance of feedback, reviews, self-awareness and commitment must increase in order to achieve complete honesty.

It is simple to measure your team’s journey and maturity by categorising it into whether:

  • things are felt but not said
  • things are said but it feels uncomfortable
  • all things that need to be said are said and it feels ok to do so

Feedback Culture

If there are improvements to be made, one way to ensure that honesty is a priority is to create a feedback culture when establishing your own culture. Feedback is an important key to increasing levels of honesty and self-awareness, both of which lead to higher performance. This is because it impacts your team on two counts:

  1. interpersonal feedback reduces the potential for conflict and builds trust and relationships
  2. technical feedback accelerates individual learning

If you don’t want to take it from me, arguably, one of the best Olympic athletes of all time, Daley Thompson, had a mantra of ‘feedback is the lifeblood of champions‘. He asked for feedback and learnt constantly from all around him, meaning his performance was constantly improving. This logic is simple and can be easily replicated. If each of your team members spends even as little as 10 minutes more learning than the next team, then over time, they will trust each other more and be more capable.

Furthermore, in world-class sports teams such as elite rugby, people have to sign up to a very high level of brutally honest feedback. This feedback is administered immediately and often publicly, which builds resilience. It can be painful but the alternative is delayed or no learning, simmering conflict and thus defeat. This is an extreme example but the logic is still the same, in order to improve upon your performance you must know how to.

The characteristics you should look for in your own highly effective feedback culture are:

  1. feedback is exchanged little and often and immediately
  2. people are expected to invite it rather than waiting for another team member to give it
  3. feedback is not always technical but also on behaviours, attitude and commitment etc
  4. the feedback given is with positive intent of genuinely wanting to help the other person and the team

Once a feedback culture has been established, it is important to note that honesty also comes in many other forms. It is therefore just as vital to make a conscious effort to consistently cover the following aspects:

  • current reality and team performance – no matter how bleak
  • individual performance and interpersonal relationships, conflict and commitment levels
  • ourselves, including fears, expectations, aspirations, weaknesses and shortcomings and mistakes
  • finally, the team needs to be honest about its level of honesty


  • Talk about honesty at an early team meeting when you are discussing your team values. Then brainstorm what a team needs to be honest about and ask the question: “what can we practically do to stop sabotaging ourselves through a lack of honesty?”


  • As a leader make it a personal habit to invite honesty


  • As a team, give each other licence to “tell me what I most need to hear”


  • Expect people to be flawed e.g. by publicly owning up to a mistake or a weakness. Be vulnerable and give up trying to look good all the time! This is very liberating and so, paradoxically, being vulnerable will make you feel stronger


  • At a team review – if it feels necessary, ask the question of how honest we are being in this team


Thank you for taking the time to read our blog! If you have any questions feel free to contact us.
Check back in next Tuesday for more tips on improving team performance.

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Gerry De Vries

Written by Gerry De Vries

Since leaving the Marines in the early 90s and taking his MBA at London Business School, Gerry has become a specialist in turning businesses around. His particular expertise lies in improving performance through effective leadership and culture change. He has played a leading role, as Management Team member, Interim Manager and Consultant, in a number of strategic turnarounds and optimisation projects, across different industries. He has led over 35 teams globally and worked with leaders at all levels including Executive and Ministerial.

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