Monday, January 21, 2013

Communication and getting to the truth - one in a series

If you have ever been in a leadership role in your career - whether as a supervisor, unit head, project manager, or some other role where you are leading an initiative - inevitably a thought is going to cross your mind: am I being told the truth?

It's an excellent question...and one that can make or break a leader.

Creating an environment of psychological safety - where your team members can speak up freely about their thoughts and opinions on a topic and not fear condemnation or reprisal - is at the heart of outstanding group communication and being told the truth. Managers - from CEOs to front-line managers - struggle with this component of their jobs more than any other. It's one thing to make claims about wanting others' opinions to be heard, but it's an entirely different thing to create an environment where it is true.

Building a safe psychological space requires an acknowledgment of current organizational dynamics, a shift in perspective, intense intentionality, and constant reinforcement. In this series, I will delve into these different components individually and provide you with assessment questions or assignments to help you strengthen psychological safety for your work unit.

These steps can be helpful to managers, or to front-line staff who have the courage to talk with their supervisors about this important component of teamwork.

Step one: Acknowledge the power dynamic
Since most organizations are hierarchical (with a top-down reporting structure) and possess a culture (the rules - both written and unwritten - that dictate how communication is handled, tasks are accomplished, and where power lies) that reinforces the power of the supervisor, I believe the first and most critical thing you can do is to understand and acknowledge this, particularly if you hold performance review and/or firing power over your team.

Through understanding and acknowledgment, you become aware of what you are up against. Fighting hierarchy and culture is a difficult proposition. You could get some push-back from peers or from your supervisor. Further (and possibly even more daunting) you will be fighting with your more skeptical and jaded team members. They are not bad people: they likely have been hurt before by those before you who told them that the space they worked in was psychologically safe...only to be shown that it is not.

Creating a space of psychological safety can seem like an uphill battle and - at times - not worth it. But witness the output and dynamic of any high-performing group and you will see a space of extreme psychological safety.

Assignment: reflect on these questions before committing to creating a space of psychological safety:

  • What is in it for me?
  • What is in it for the team?
  • What am I willing to let go of?
  • What will I need to persevere against?
  • How far am I willing to go?
  • What are the benefits of doing this?

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