team psychological safety adaptive leadership

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.

team work experiment

Create Better Focus by Reframing Your Approach to Achieving Goals

Based on a 2011 McKinsey study, only 10% of executives were “very satisfied” with how they spend their time. Also, 50% of executives were not allocating their work time on activities tied to company goals. Why weren’t these executives focused on the very goals they were setting for their companies? Are goals intimidating, bringing up fears of failure or success.

Not sure but maybe the way most of us approach goals needs reframing.

What if you saw those same goals more like hypotheses that allow you to set up experiments? When you approach company goals as experimenting, it seems to create a sense of taking action, giving permission to fail, and learning from mistakes. Additionally, framing your approach as experiments gives permission to take time to identify and control variables, so that you more intentionally focus your efforts. It is that focus that is key to moving your company goals forward.

So, here are some thoughts on how to do that:

1. What control do the employees in your area of responsibility have toward achieving the hypothesis / goal?

Think about (a) what’s within your employees’ control as far as achieving the goal and (2) to what degree doing those things will have an impact. Once you ferret out these variables, you and your employees can decide with which variables to experiment. Then, it’s a matter of designing work experiments and measuring the results. Implicit in this is also the ability to change the variables and the approach if desired results don’t happen.

2. Which work activities for YOUR role are “high-value” because they directly affect the chosen variables and experiments?

Based on the experiments you and your employees have selected, determine ways you can ensure the experiments occur, the variables are tracked, and results are interpreted for successful outcomes and possible adjustments. Maybe there are things you already do. Maybe they are things you should start doing. Either way, these activities have “high-value” for your leadership role. And you don’t have to go overboard re-tooling your weekly calendar: using the 80/20 Pareto Principle, you should consider spending only about 20% of your working time on them.

Include meetings, reviewing data, celebrating success, following up with direct reports, mentoring your employees, your own professional development, and activities that build and nurture relationships that are important for achieving the goal.

3. Commit to making goal activities happen.

One of the best ways to make sure you do your “high-value” work activities is to commit to them by scheduling them on your calendar with the right frequency and duration. Once they are on your calendar, you have carved out space to dedicate to them. What do you do if something else comes along for a particular time slot? You have to decide what’s more important or can be done at a different time. If you displace a scheduled high-value activity, make sure to re-schedule it or have it covered by someone else.

If goals are important enough to set, they are important enough to work towards. Make it more palatable to work towards goals by changing your mindset about them, then focus on what you can do to make them happen, and keep the commitments you make.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?

You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by creating high-performance teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.