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Three ways to foster psychological safety in your team(s)

This blog is the second in a series of blogs about psychological safety and trust.

Psychological safety, defined as a shared belief that a team is safe for interpersonal risk taking, has been identified as the by far most important characteristic of successful high-performing teams. A team needs to feel safe for expressing ideas, asking questions and admitting mistakes. How can you increase the level of psychological safety in your organization? Here are 3 advices, coming from recent literature.

1. Leaders are imperfect: Model vulnerability

Much depends on the behavior of the leaders of the teams. If they are not inclusive, ready to admit mistakes themselves, a wrong example is given to the rest of the team. One way to foster psychological safety is to acknowledge your own imperfection. It all starts with modeling vulnerability, sharing your personal perspective on work and failures with your employees and encouraging them to do the same. Employees have to experience that their leader is just as human and mortal as themselves.

Moreover, try to invite employees to challenge your own perspective, encourage them to take risks and demonstrate risk-taking in your own work. Give credit to teammates by supporting and representing the team, by expressing gratitude for their contributions and by sharing their work with other parties in the company

2. From passive to active: Demonstrate engagement

We may think it’s sufficient to listen and talk to colleagues or employees, but the way we do it is even more crucial. Only by shifting our perspective from that of the knower to that of the learner, we can build an understanding of another’s perspective. Model curiosity by asking lots of questions with the intention of learning from teammates. Always find mutual alignment by recapturing what has been said and acknowledge areas of agreement and discussion. 

Model curiosity. Only by shifting our perspective from that of the knower to that of the learner, we can build an understanding of another’s perspective.

Furthermore, it may seem obvious but we often forget to be aware of our body language during conversations. This can be as simple as making eye contact, nodding your head to show understanding, leaning towards the person speaking and trying to avoid being on your phone or laptop during meetings. Even your facial expressions matter: Are they unintentionally negative?

3. Dare to speak up: Encourage a healthy culture of ‘debate’

Lastly, it’s beneficial to encourage a healthy culture of ‘debate’ within teams. Teams need opposing opinions to consider other angles of a problem and to think more deeply about their own views. However, crucial is how opinions are presented and perceived by the other team members, in a way that is not personal or emotional. Once an argument is seen as confrontational, teams perform worse. People can’t fully process information when a conflict becomes emotional, so they become irrational and distracted.

The goal is to focus on the facts and ideas instead of the person bringing them. A possible method for doing this is formally appointing roles within the team, such as ‘the devil’s advocate’, which empowers team members to disagree and debate within the safety of playing a role. An opinion or argument needs to be decoupled from the personality of the person voicing it.

Progress comes from new ideas and perceptions, which can only be achieved in a culture that does not suppress, ridicule or silence. That’s what psychological safety is all about.

Otolith helps improving organizations by developing leadership, guiding change and creating people practices.


Psychological Safety: Being Comfortable with Being Wrong.

This blog is the first in a series of blogs about psychological safety and trust.

A True Story about Psychological Safety

Imagine you’re in the operating room of a hospital. You have to undergo a complex life-threatening surgery. There’s a team of two surgeons, assistants and a medical student standing around you. They are working on your case. Suddenly one surgeon, known for his explosive temper, notices that there’s blood on the handle of the overhead light. When no one of the team accepts responsibility, the surgeon starts swearing loudly at each member. Then the surgeon finishes the operation in silence. Read More


My 4 Take-aways from the 2019 Vlerick HR Day

During my first month at Otolith, I was given the opportunity to attend the 16th Vlerick HR Day. Plenty of leading international HR-speakers were present. They shared their academic or practical insights with the audience. Here are my 4 Take-aways:Read More


Anybody Can Do HR.

I once heard a VP say that he had done almost everything in the company, apart from HR. And he added “But anyone can do HR”Read More


Health Care Heroes

My Father

 
My father passed away last month. He spent the last 24 days of his life in health care facilities as it was impossible to organize the care he needed at home.

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Needs Analysis is Crucial to Leadership Development

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Leadership and Strategy Execution

Strategy execution depends on many things. But one of the most important levers for strategy execution is the quality of leadership. Without a leadership team that is able to align objectives, coordinate across boundaries and adapt to changing situations a strategy is bound to fail. But to do all that, leaders must make sure that people are willing and able to go along. And that is often the tricky part.

Leaders are often selected for the wrong reasons. Sometimes they were the best experts. And sometimes they were the only ones available. And sometimes they were the ones who complied the most to the reigning culture.

Every leader inherits a leadership team that is composed of people who are unable, mediocre or up to standards. And this is the leadership team that has to pull or push through strategic initiatives.

And that is why leadership development is often part of strategic plans. Developing leadership is crucial for any strategy. But when the start of the leadership development initiative coincides with the start of the strategic plan, it’s actually too late.

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A Kind of Investment

It takes time to develop leadership. It’s a matter of unlearning bad habits, strengthening existing good habits, detecting future leaders, and needs analysis.

Sometimes organizations reduce leadership to training. But skills training is in most cases not the solution. Moreover, focusing on skills training might be counterproductive. Training leaders for skills that are not supported by the culture, the senior leadership or the systems in place is pointless.

And it’s a missed opportunity. Leadership development is always a matter of cultural change. The impact of leadership development on culture cannot be underestimated.

Therefore, the needs analysis is crucial.

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Questions to Ask

In the needs analysis questions are asked like:

    1. What leadership behaviors will support the strategy?
    2. What leadership habits hinder strategy execution?
    3. Where can the organization make the most progress in terms of leadership?
    4. What is the leadership quality of the senior leadership team? How do people perceive management support?
    5. What should be the biggest contribution of a leadership development approach?
    6. Which systems are in place that support or hinder leadership?
    7. What are critical leadership incidents?
    8. Who are the champions?
    9. Where are the so called red spots?

There are multiple sources of information to answer these questions. Often there is a lot of information in employee engagement and satisfaction surveys, performance reviews, 360° feedback, … But next to that it’s necessary to involve leaders in the needs analysis through interviews and focus groups. Finally, a Leadership Impact Analysis can provide a lot if input.

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A Lot of Work?

This could sound like a lot of work. And it is. But the leadership development starts already during the needs analysis. The debate creates awareness, interest, … It changes perspectives. It uncovers both productive and unproductive situations in the organization.

Often organizations want to skip the thorough needs analysis and jump to a rapid deployment of a leadership training. How difficult can it be? We just take an off-the-shelf training to cover the problem and that’s it.

This approach is not appropriate for several reasons:

  • Training has a limited effect on behavior change. Under specific conditions training will have an impact, but generic training does not comply to these conditions.
  • Generic training misses the opportunity to integrate culture-specific aspects.
  • This approach does not involve key people in the definition of needs, the design of solutions and the implementation of a more holistic approach.

The more a leadership approach is tailored to the situation of your organization, the more it will have impact. The more a leadership development approach has impact the more it will support strategy execution.

Underinvesting in needs analysis is usually a mistake.

The Self-Determination Theory: What Drives Employees?

Why do employees often start their job with a positive mindset, only to become passive and demotivated after a certain amount of time?Read More


A Plea for More Fuzzy Thinking in Strategy

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Punk or New Wave?

Cubicle Thinking. We like it. We like to put people and objects in categories, typologies, … We like to say that this is this and that is that. Putting people, objects and events in categories gives us the illusion that we understand and that we can take control.

We do not like fuzziness, a blurry state of ambiguity.

Alas, the world is fuzzy. We cannot say that the one explanation for what is happening, is the only explanation. We cannot afford to attribute certainty to predictions. Experts can only say that “it depends”. Expertise is the art of formulating and testing hypotheses.

This is the new normal. Gone are the days that we could engage in binary thinking. We can no longer say that this is right and that is wrong. This is weak and this is strong. This is masculine. This is feminine. That is good, and this is bad. Generation X, Y, Z.Read More


Well-being Programs: Carrying Water to the Ocean?

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Well-Being Programs on the Rise

There are more and more programs on well-being. What strikes me is that they always start from a good intention but often do not have the desired effect.Read More


Building a Feedback Culture: the 2 Questions for HR

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The Idea of a Feedback Culture

Many organizations are looking for ways to build a feedback culture. They do this because the organization will benefit from more intensive and qualitative feedback. We know that feedback can be beneficial under specific circumstances. But we also know that in the majority of cases feedback does not work.Read More


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