Latest Blog Posts

Team camaraderie, group training
October 21, 2019 bstrathman
This is What’s Keeping You From Building a High-Performing Team

It's invisible, silent -- you'll never know it's there. But it most likely occurs on your team and will keep it from doing its best work. It is the fear of speaking up about ideas, concerns, questions, and mistakes. Twenty years of research at Harvard by Amy Edmondson found that the best teams overcome the stigma around being wrong, asking questions, making mistakes, or presenting wild ideas. That is, members of the best teams feel an obligation to speak up with ideas, questions, concerns, and about mistakes. Surprisingly, teams that encourage members to speak up don’t make any fewer mistakes than other teams. However, because they speak up, they are able to address issues that would have otherwise remained in the shadows. Thus, the teams that encourage speaking up learn from mistakes, catch and address issues early, take more risks that lead to innovation, and are better able to adjust to improve their work.

How Come Your Team Members Don’t Speak Up?
There are a few reasons your team is staying silent when speaking up could be helpful. First, they are normal human beings who have adapted over eons to survive. Your team, like all of us, are wired to prefer certainty over uncertainty. Thus, they choose the certainty of remaining quiet and over the uncertainty of the reaction they'll get for speaking up (e.g., getting fired or ridiculed). Additionally, humans are wired to fit in and be part of the group, instead of sticking out like a sore thumb with a crazy idea or "silly" question. Second, past experience taught your team how to avoid pain. Past experiences of speaking up in their families, at school, or at work by asking questions or even opposing others, likely trained them that speaking up usually isn't worth the negative reaction received. Third, it’s possible that your team environment and/or company culture, has some respect for hierarchy and/or unwritten rules about when, where, how, and who can and should speak up. Your team’s reticence to speak up may signal that you or your company reinforces silence, even if the culture claims to value speaking up.
Why Speaking Up is Important.
According to Edmondson’s findings, the belief that one can speak up without reprisal is called “psychological safety”, and it is THE critical factor in creating a high-performing team. This is especially true when outcomes are uncertain and where people are interdependent on one another to perform work and achieve goals. Separately, Google reached the same conclusion when it reviewed the data on its own teams to determine what made the best teams the “best”. Google found  five factors important to creating the best teams (including clear roles, goals and plans; meeting deadlines; and doing meaningful work). Of those factors, psychological safety was the lynch pin. In other words, a team could have the other 4 factors of high-performing teams, but without psychological safety,  they didn't do the level of work that would distinguish them as the highest performing ones. How come? When individuals feel safe to speak up about things that might show their ignorance, lack of skill, or unconventionality, new ideas come into play and new learning occurs that allows teams to innovate and improve their collaboration and the quality of their work. This is huge because when psychological safety is present, team members are able to overcome the ingrained aversion to speaking up that comes from biology, experience, and culture. So, even if they make the same number of mistakes as other teams, they have a better chance of catching mistakes earlier, addressing and resolving issues that may not have surfaced, and improving the work they do in the future. . . all by feeling free to speak up without fear of punishment or reprisal. WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by increasing executive presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Take her 5-minute Leadership Impact quiz at https://assess.coach/firebrandconsulting to discover how she can help. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

September 17, 2019 bstrathman
Speak Up to Disagree with Someone More Senior

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to state your disagreement or take a stand with someone who's in a high position than yours,  like your boss, board chair, or someone else in leadership? It's tough because you want to respect the person and/or the position, and at the same time, send the message that you think they've got something really wrong. Disagreeing with those in power was seen as an important function even in medieval times to the degree  that it was institutionalized in the form of the court jester. The jester was the only person who could use humor to disagree with or point out the follies of a ruler. In today's world, when you want to take a stand, or state something that someone in power may not agree with, consider a few things before you do that, so you remain a credible, respectful team player.

1. Check Your Own Motivations
Make sure that your message is not about you, but is for the good of the organization or your team. This is key because when you work with others, the central objective is not about furthering your own agenda. Rather, it's about keeping the work at the center of the discussion and doing what's right in the best interest of the project, the team, or the company. When you act out of unselfish motivations, you will likely reap personal benefits in the long run because because you will be seen as someone who is credible and has honorable intentions.
2. Assume Good Intentions
Everyone has good intentions and so does your boss and other powerful people. You might disagree with an assumption, an approach, the way they have framed the issue, but assume the underlying objective or reason for their "take" is good. You just need to figure out what those underlying motivations are for this individual and acknowledge them.
3. Speak Up When Stated Principles and Values Are at Stake
It's not worth it to speak up about every detail that you disagree with. Speaking up to disagree with someone in a higher position is warranted when you see a stated ideal at issue. As you speak up to address the issue, go to the root of your disagreement by referring back to a broad principle that is very important to the company or to that specific individual. Observe how their current position seems to be at odds with a deeply held principle, purpose, value, or behavioral norm. By highlighting where you see the rub with what they're advocating, speaking up to disagree is based on a loftier ideal and not simply a difference of opinion.
4. Help Them Save Face
This is not about you putting your boss or other senior person "in their place". This is about you simply speaking up in a way that helps them to see the deeper issue that you're trying to highlight. To avoid making their viewpoint seem "wrong", you can propose a different solution or alternative that aligns with the higher ideals and with their their concerns. When you disagree in this way, other with seniority are more likely to listen to you and see you as someone who speaks up thoughtfully. I can't guarantee that everything will work out every time, but when you do seek to speak up to disagree with those more senior than you in this way, you remain respectful, maintain your credibility, and will be seen as a "team player". WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Take her 5-minute Leadership Impact quiz at https://assess.coach/firebrandconsulting to discover how you might be holding yourself back. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

speaking up, truth to power
team psychological safety adaptive leadership
August 20, 2019 bstrathman
How Uncertainty and Conflict Lead to Innovation and Creativity

Did you know that teams rated as the “best” make more mistakes (not fewer) than others? How come? Because the better teams that make more mistakes DISCUSS them. When they do this, they can work together to reduce them. In short, these "better" teams operate in an environment of “psychological safety”. According to Harvard Business School professor and researcher, Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is the “belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” In contrast to a work environment the emphasizes only accountability to produce results, an environment of psychological safety is one that: • Appreciates diverse perspectives and encourages disagreement instead of assuming there is one correct perspective or answer. • Allows team members to admit what is unknown, uncomfortable, or uncertain. It is not a trendy “safe space” designed to shelter team members from things they don’t agree with. • Focuses on experimentation to find ways to address current challenge. To this end, it encourages appropriate risk and allows mistakes. • Approaches challenges as a system instead of looking for one thing or individual to blame. • Allows for imperfection and encourages acknowledging personal fallibility and flaws without encouraging unproductive, dysfunctional behavior. Through her research, Edmondson identified 3 leadership behaviors that help create psychological safety:

1. A Learning Framework.
Work is framed as a learning problem; not an execution problem.  This is accomplished, in part, by acknowledging uncertainty and interdependence. In this way, the team knows it's OK to encounter fits, starts, detours, and failure before it arrives at an end result.
2. Lean in to Vulnerability and Flaws.
As a leader, when you acknowledge your own fallibility, you emphasize the need for all to speak up and add their perspectives. You can say things, like, “I’m curious to know how you see this.” or "What am I missing here?"
3. Model Curiosity.
Ask lots of questions to show the team how to speak up to get the information they need without being afraid to look less than competent. For your part, creating psychological safety means that you as a leader must manage your emotions and reactivity. You might think you’re modeling curiosity to encourage participation in a discussion. However, if you get visibly upset at what your team's input, you’ll undermine psychological safety. In conclusion, when you create psychological safety with your team, you create an environment that taps into the human element of work instead of treating them as simple cogs in a machine. When coupled with high accountability for results, psychological safety helps you create a learning team that constantly adapts to challenges. In this way, your team has the best chance of expressing its full potential. And that leads to more innovation and creativity in your organization. Learn more about Amy Edmondson’s research and how to create psychological safety in your organization with her book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety or her TedX Talk. WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

new growth
July 13, 2019 bstrathman
Stop Distractions By Going Back to Your Purpose

With all the distractions in today’s world, it’s easy for your focus to blur and boundaries around your time to erode. Devices, apps, and social media comprise the main technological distractions, with open offices and co-workers creating distractions as well. All told, it’s estimated that you are distracted from your work approximately 2 hours per day! Additionally, you can create your own distractions. You might want to be (overly) helpful to others and be seen as a team player, so before you know it, you go out of your way and spend time on activities that are not about what is important to you/your team. It is also easy to distract yourself from the things you don’t want to do or don’t feel confident about doing. Moreover, simply the day-to-day busy-ness of life and work can pull you away from the important things to what’s urgent.

Go Back to Purpose
To re-orient yourself, go back to purpose. It seems odd that something as general as “purpose” can create more targeted focus. However, the reason you become unfocused is you lose sight of where you’re headed and the reason for all of your activity. And that reason your doing the work you’re doing comes from a larger purpose. Your personal purpose, the company’s purpose, or the purpose of an initiative can put things into perspective and allow you to re-dedicate yourself to focusing on what matters. To that point, purpose is what you believe in. It’s “why” you do what you do. For example, at work, you might be leading a team to implement a piece of the company’s strategic plan. What’s the purpose of that plan – why is it important to the company and how does that “why” translate to the work done by your team?
Use Purpose to Re-Commit and Re-Focus Others
Simply re-stating the purpose is a great way to re-focus yourself and others. Even if your colleagues or direct reports disagree about the current work tasks, they will most likely agree on what the purpose is. Starting from this area of general agreement, you can then facilitate a meaningful discussion about what the most relevant daily and weekly activities should be. And this allows a re-alignment of focus. In general, go to the general ideals, like purpose, to re-align yourself and others when things get stuck or discombobulated.
Use Your Purpose to Focus Your Attention
Whether personal or work-related, check to see whether your time and energy is aligned to purpose. Look at how you spend your time over the course of a week (longer if you can). Can you see the connection between your purpose(s) and the activities you spend your time on and people you spend your time with? (Don’t expect that 100% of your time is tied to directly to purpose – you’re doing well if there’s a connection between a larger relevant purpose and at least 25% of your time.) If it’s not evident what is important to you after examining how you spend your time and energy, it’s time to go back to your purpose and rededicate yourself to behaviors and activities that reflect it and further it. The next time you feel your focus waning or the boundaries around your time getting fuzzy, prioritize your weekly focus by aligning it with your purpose. WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

July 13, 2019 bstrathman
Forge a Common Purpose to Unite Factions

Pursuing real change in any system is a challenge. One of the main reasons for the challenge of change is the reality of factions within any group. Because each faction has its different perspectives and different and multiple purposes around any issue or challenge, it’s difficult to hold everyone together under one or even two common purposes. Even in organizations where all employees are (or should be) united under the entity’s purpose, each new initiative uncovers multiple purposes for the various factions or interests involved. For example, in my years as a HR Director, it was common for the Payroll department and the HR department to be at odds. This might seem strange because both groups have the purpose of creating a great workplace by ensuring employee fairness (in pay and work environment). However, each function comes from a different vantage point regarding those same employees. In carrying out the purpose of fairness to employees, Payroll often emphasizes consistent and accurate processes that designed with little flexibility. In contrast, HR’s purpose of ensuring fairness to employees often occurs during situations fraught with miscommunication and non-standard situations. For example, it was not uncommon to learn of an issue with an employee’s reported work hours after Payroll had finished processing pay for the period. HR sought to rectify the situation before (of even just after) the pay was sent to the bank. Payroll would be frustrated processing had already occurred. Even if there were processes in place to make adjustments due to errors, the adjustments usually occurred after payday. You see, Payroll typically had an additional purpose of creating a SYSTEM for numerical accuracy and fairness; HR’s additional purpose were often about FLEXIBILITY to address non-standard situations or miscommunication that occurs with people. Neither was correct or wrong. Each function came from a different perspective while pursuing a similar overall purpose. It illustrates why it’s important to forge a common purpose among factions – groups with different interests and perspectives. How to forge a common purpose with the different factions you work with in your organization:

  1. Clarify your own purpose(s). List up to 10 purposes that are important to you. (Purposes are your “why” for pursuing a course of action. They are deeply-held beliefs that inspire you.)
  2. If you don’t know, find out the “whys” for the other factions you’re working with. What beliefs and “whys” are driving them.
  3. Look for overlap of purposes among individuals/factions. Focus the overlap to reshape and reframe them, so others understand and resonate with them.
  4. Be prepared to let go of some your purposes – at least for now. Concentrate on common ones.
  5. Get “real” with your common purpose(s) by using them to create or modify a concrete plan with goals, objectives, milestones, and timelines.
Even in complex situations with many factions, you can forge common purpose and use that purpose to create a plan to move forward. WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

employee engagement
management, role
June 18, 2019 bstrathman
What Story Do Others Tell About You?

Exerting more positive influence with others can take a lot of listening, especially with individuals and groups who appear to be at odds with you. You know your good intentions and probably see yourself in the best possible light. However, the story you tell yourself about yourself is not always the same narrative others tell about you. When I started a job as HR Director in a unionized workplace, I had no idea the amount of existing baggage that would be heaped on me by others who had been around awhile. Bad blood had existed between previous HR Directors and some employee groups. Simply by stepping into the role, some factions automatically assumed the worst from me. It seemed no matter what I did or didn't do, my actions and words were interpreted in the most negative light possible. Even though I didn't see myself at odds with these groups and even though we shared a common purpose, it took years before the defensiveness decreased enough to have productive interactions. Some groups had crafted a story about me that served their purposes, and I often unintentionally stepped right into their negative narrative because I wasn't fully aware that my behavior was so easily misinterpreted.

What's Their Story?
Maximizing your influence starts with identifying the various factions that have an interest in an issue or initiative. These are groups of stakeholders who band together based on common values, interests, and motivations around the issue. Next, imagine the story they tell about themselves and about you. How do they see themselves? Why do they care? What do they stand to lose in the situation if things don't go their way? How would they describe YOUR values, interests, and motivations in the particular situation? When you layout each faction's values, interests, and motivations, along with your own, you can start to see where you can create common ground and where you might need to bridge a divide with the right appeal.
How Does Your View of Yourself Play Into It?
For clarity with each faction, take a good look at yourself. Decide how you want to be seen with each faction. This can help you stay focused on the broader relationship you want to create as you work through a particular challenge. Next, identify your strengths. This helps you know what you can leverage to bring to discussions and the work. Also, be aware of how this group and its interests might trigger you into an emotionally reactive state. What insecurities or vulnerabilities might they hit on that will "tweak" you? When you prepare for what can set you off, you'll be better able to recognize it when it happens and prepare your reactions accordingly. With this information, the story other individuals or factions are telling about you emerges. If it’s not the story you want them to tell, start working to change the script. Use this information to exert the most positive influence possible by gaining credibility along the way and seeking a win-win result.   WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.