“How can you correct a team culture of gossip, side conversations, and rumors?”
If you want to keep a team relationship in “The Zone” as we discussed throughout Part II of the course, you need to have a culture where people simultaneously a) don’t hold back their points of view; and b) don’t make things personal. Gossip is the enemy of both of these goals.
A surefire sign that you have a culture that is struggling with A (holding back) and B (making things personal) is when conversations about how people really feel about important issues happen on the sidelines rather than directly.
There are a few things you can do in a culture like this to improve:
Instill more transparency into your communication. See Lessons 4.10 and 4.11 for a dive into team transparency and information sharing. Often communication issues are a result of misusing meetings and missing opportunities to clarify information simply because the structure you are using for team communication is unhelpful.
Locate the individuals who are having side conversations—meaning the folks who are holding back their full and true thoughts from the group—and resolve concerns with them. Side conversations happen when it is not psychologically safe to speak up. This may be because you’ve allowed (or fallen into) an environment that makes less-powerful people nervous about their place in the group if they are forthcoming, or it may be because there are underlying individual concerns that people have. To clear up your culture of side conversations and gossip, you need to spend time addressing each of the underlying concerns. Review Lessons 2.15 (a and b) on “clearing the air” and Part IV of the course (creating collaborative culture). In particular, Lesson 4.12 on micro-inclusions and Lesson 4.7 on superordinate group mentality can help you as you seek to understand the individuals with concerns.
If your team is large and the gossip culture is systemic, you need to enlist the leaders at every level in this effort of understanding individuals and resolving concerns. This is more like weeding a garden than crop-dusting a field. It takes time and individual care.
The best way to fix a culture of rumors is simply (though it’s not fun) to address the rumors head-on when they happen. As a leader, you can use the framework for resolving personal concerns when addressing a group about rumors, as well as when addressing an individual at the heart of rumor-spreading.