Lack of employee engagement in to America has been a highlighted issue for years. US companies lose an estimated $550 billon per year due to productivity lost from disengaged workers (Gallup). Alternatively, companies find themselves needing to innovate more and more quickly in order to stay relevant amid today’s rapidly changing market. True innovation requires the crème de la crème of engagement – creativity. Unfortunately it takes a lot more than an invitation or encouragement from management to harness the creative power of people.
Psychological safety and trust are the most fundamental preconditions for creating a culture that is conducive to the creativity that powers innovation. This is because when people don’t feel safe, they simply don’t share their ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes; the very things that fuel innovation. Here are the terms defined:
Psychological Safety: The belief that no one will be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, mistakes or emotions
Trust: (relative to safety) The belief in the reliability of others to create a psychologically safe environment
Unfortunately, most companies and teams rarely take the time to determine what creating a ‘psychologically safe’ environment means to people. All too often, the norm is complete inaction based on an invalid assumption that ‘people should instinctively know how I need to be treated to feel safe’ and ‘we should instinctively know how to treat each other in order to feel safe’. The reality is that human beings are so complex and dynamic, each with our own unique experiences, backgrounds, attitudes and perspectives that the potential for people working together and just ‘happening’ to feel safe is very small.
An alternative view would have us believe that ‘we do not instinctively know how to treat each other in order to feel safe’, and therefore need to take time to intentionally create an appropriate atmosphere. The process outlined below is meant to be a simple and incredibly effective way to identify, create, and hold each other accountable to agreed upon behaviors that help ensure that people feel safe to speak up with their ideas, questions, concerns and mistakes. This process works well for teams of any size, and can be equally as effective for individual relationships as well.
Step 1: Identify the atmosphere that you want to create together.
Great teams don’t just happen, they’re designed. You wouldn’t expect your team to be productive without a clear vision for their product/service, so you can’t expect that they’d be harmonious in their behavior without one either. Simply ask the question “How do we want to be together?” And let conversation fly, and narrow down the list to the most important and agreed upon.
Step 2: Prepare for when things get tough
It’s easy to be aligned when you’re talking about creating a fun, creative, harmonious atmosphere, but it’s important to ground your vision in the reality that there will always be challenge and conflict when people work together (and this is a good thing, since the rub is where some of the best ideas come from). Ask the question “How do we want to be together when things get difficult?” (because they will).
Step 3: Define the terms
Sure, most people are going to sign on for creating a ‘respectful’ atmosphere, as an example. But it’s important to note that respect looks very different to different people. So does fun. And everything else. Take your conversation deeper by asking “What do we really mean when we say…” for each of the words/phrases agreed to in Phase 1 and Phase 2.
Step 4: Create agreements
Once you’ve identified the environment you want to create and have clarified the terms to ensure everyone is talking about the same thing, it’s time to create the agreements that will help ensure that such a space is created. Ask the question “What agreements do we need to make in order to ensure we create the environment/atmosphere we’ve identified here?”. It can be helpful here for people to identify real/mock situations that may come up and have a discussion or role play around it in order to make the agreements more real.
Step 5: Stay Accountable
This is an amazing exercise that will have very little impact if there is not some real commitment to the agreements and a system of accountability. Simply ask the question “How are we going to hold each other accountable to these agreements”. This particular conversation tends to be a great idea generator – you may find that with the safety you’ve created in the room that you already begin to tap into the creativity people to come up with some very innovative ideas for this!
Innovation is fueled by human creativity, and being creative in a collaborative atmosphere requires a certain amount of vulnerability. We can assume that everybody wants to feel safe, creative, able to make mistakes and share their ideas, but we must not assume that people instinctively know how to create an atmosphere that allows everyone to feel that. Each of us is responsible for creating the world around us, the exercise shared in this article is a good start to an inclusive conversation that can help your team collectively design what’s needed, together.
Are you working to create an intentional culture that is trusting and innovative? Can we help you achieve your goals? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.