“Total radical transparency”

Dennis Sparks

Strong teamwork is the engine that enables continuous improvements in teaching and learning.

High-functioning teams have compelling, stretching goals that require sustained, meaningful collaboration for their achievement. They also have sufficient time to meet and skillful leadership that promotes both the attainment of goals and trusting relationships. (I elaborate here on the qualities of effective teams.)

High-functioning teams also demonstrate the “total radical transparency” that director James Cameron describes in a September 2014 Fast Company interview in which he discusses the development of a submersible vehicle for his documentary, “James Cameron’s Deepest Challenge 3-D”:

The process I used was called “total radical transparency.” Everyone working on the vehicle had to sit around the table every morning at 8:15 – not 8:14 or 8:16 – and we’d air out our problems. There would be no offline conversations about things that were going wrong. You bring your problems to the group, and we as a group would solve them. People thought I was crazy, but after about two weeks, we started really working as a team. They started to understand that you don’t hide your problems – you bring your problems to the group.

Instead of hiding problems, members of teaching and leadership teams bring them to the group, which is the ultimate test of high-functioning teams and a prerequisite for the achievement of the compelling goals that guide and motivate their work.

What is your experience working with or on teams that manifest “total radical transparency”?

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a wonderful 2015!

3 Responses to ““Total radical transparency””


  1. 1 Jamie December 17, 2014 at 8:11 am

    Thanks for sharing this, Dennis. I love the idea of Total Radical Transparency and can see the power in it. Happy holidays to you too!

  2. 2 Patricia T. De Bello December 17, 2014 at 8:18 am

    The Director of Pupil Personnel Services for the largest ( at the time – late 60′-early 21st century)school district on Long Island implemented a ” team” approach at all the elementary buildings in the district the building team was comprised of the psychologist, social worker( who coordinated the meetings), a,speech- language teacher, ” resource “room teacher, the student’s classroom teacher,, remedial reading and math teachers,school nurse and building administrator( when possible..if not able to be there..information before and after shared) A once weekly hour was built in during school time( with coverage provided for the classroom teacher if needed) anyone in the building could request a meeting regarding a student. At the meeting the concerns regarding the youngster were discussed and straggles developed. The social worker would provide development history, current familial updates and perspectives, Strategies would be discussed and developed, with plans for follow -up meetings.All team members were equal. information was always shared with the parent or guardian, who was frequently asked to participate in some way if possible. The parent/ guardian was always included to hear any testing results. There were frequently at least 3-4 meetings on one student over the course of several months. If needed the team meetings would extend to before or after school. Although at the beginning of the school year it took some deliberation and juggling to set these weekly meetings up, the results were well worth the effort! I felt very privileged as a school social worker to be a part of this type of approach…and felt I was involved with professional development for myself and among team members at each and every meeting. We also made sure to ” stay on task!”

  3. 3 Joanne December 17, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Dennis, thank you for the example of how this aspect of team functioning was used to become more productive. I will use this example to help teams understand the value in this agreement. Happy holidays!


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