Painting over the cracks

Painting over the cracks is denial of feedback. When we paint over the cracks we hide vital information about the reality of our situation. Good teams strive to make visible and learn from the cracks. Whilst different personality types treat cracks in different ways a balanced team will not ignore them.

In traditional organisations Managers have control over the amount feedback people get to see. They often suppress feedback to their staff whitewashing problems that might portray them as less than perfect. When the ship begins to take on water the staff will be told what is to be done about it. Why would all the smart people they employ have the answers? The answer from on high will often be some kind of deconstruction/reconstruction without taking the time to consider what is causing the damage.

Agile teams strive to get as much feedback as they can. They want fresh, first hand, raw feedback, not the sanitised information that they often receive from managers or proxies. Third parties draw their own inferences from data making it difficult to really understand the situation. Third parties find it hard not to turn to Polyfilla to protect their own interests. For an agile team to truly succeed an organisation needs to allow access to this information first hand requiring the whole organisation to be open, sadly I have no experience of this happening.

It’s always easier to paint over the cracks particularly when we believe they will reflect badly on us or open up a discussion that we feel is undiscussable. It’s fear of where the cracks might take us that stop us from discovering what our organisation really needs. What will it take for people to see cracks as learning opportunities and not hide them away?


  1. Nice post. Could use a few hints about what to do when one finds one’s managers “painting over the cracks”. BTW Have you read Noonan’s “Discussing the Undiscussable”?

    – Bob

  2. Thanks for the comment Bob. I’m still trying to work out what to do about it, thats why I read your blog! I have read “Discussing the Undiscussable” and wrote about it earlier ( So far my attempts at engaging managers on these topics have met with failure, I’ll not stop trying though.

  3. In most large organizations, it seems that the annual performance review is all that’s needed to provide feedback to the staff. The annual review becomes a crutch, an easy way out. We need to eliminate it and encourage managers to talk with their staffs. Forget the formality. Keep it light and open. We’d all be better off.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. […] my last post I discussed the common practice of painting over the cracks in the way we work. If we are not going to hide our problems then what are we going to do about […]

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