After a report from the Verge about a highly toxic workplace culture, Steph Korey, the CEO and co-founder of luggage maker Away, has resigned. That report described how Korey became known within the company for publicly berating teams and individuals, and for creating highly restrictive policies around communications on Slack.

The result was a culture of fear, in which employees weren't allowed to have private conversations but were required to use public Slack channels for almost everything. Employees weren't even allowed to email one another. Everything was supposed to take place in public Slack channels, including scathing criticism and public admonishment. 

It appears, at least from the outside, that there are really several major issues that happened to collide in this particular case--each of which is a lesson for entrepreneurs and leaders.

Lack of Trust

Lack of trust is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When leadership tries to exert too much control over a team, it causes people to feel like they aren't valued or trusted to do what they're good at. When people feel micromanaged or exposed, they internalize grievances more deeply, which means that all of that discontent can fester and grow. 

Without a place to express frustration, team members search for other outlets. Eventually, the pressure turns into tension. As this happens, it can cause a manager to feel like their team is plotting against them and hiding things, which causes them to exert even more control. It's a dangerous and toxic cycle that results in the destruction of trust and your ability to lead. 

Instead, trust your team to do what it does. Empower them to make the best decisions based on the values you share as a team. Be intentional about giving one another the benefit of the doubt--assume the best-case scenario instead of the worst. People tend to live up to whichever one you focus on. 

Slack Isn't Always the Right Platform

Slack is great for some things, like quick messages between team members. It's also great for collaborating with a group without getting lost in an avalanche of emails. It's also great for creating a connection and culture, especially among members of remote teams. 

But at the same time, Slack isn't a replacement for actual human interaction. It should never be used for leaders to make an example of someone unless it's to publicly celebrate a win. This should go without saying, but if you're using Slack to dress down or berate your employees, you're doing it wrong. To be fair, that's not a problem unique to Slack. It's a problem with your leadership.

Slack reduces what would otherwise be important friction or tells in interpersonal connections. Sometimes that's helpful, because it can reduce the barriers that slow down important communication among teams. But these frictions and tells serve important roles: They slow things down, force us to think about what we're actually saying. 

Remember that it's another person at the other end of your communication, and think about what's actually happening beyond the words with that person. You don't get that on Slack; you just get a constant stream of avatars, words, and notifications. 

Instead, use Slack as what it is--a tool. Treat it as one platform for communicating with your team when it makes the most sense. Allow people to make the best decision for themselves and their teams, even if that means giving up a little bit of control. But don't use it to control communications just because you're afraid of what they might be saying behind your back.

Because if that's the case, your problem is far bigger than private Slack channels. Your problem is you. 

Published on: Dec 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.