Sunday, April 22, 2018

Importance of Treating Psychological Safety as a Journey

Amy Edmondson defines psychology safety as “a belief that one will not be punished for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” The benefit is that this can lead to high performing teams and innovative ideas.  To align with a shared belief at a team or organization level, it explicitly requires a change in the way a culture works and this will take time. 

More specifically, a culture shift that must occur in the following areas: openness to asking questions instead of staying quiet for fear of looking ignorant; admitting mistakes instead of hiding them for fear of looking incompetent; offering ideas instead of holding on to them for fear of looking intrusive; and challenging norms instead of sitting back for fear of sounding negative. 

As it can take time to shift to a culture of psychological safety, I have seen great benefits in treating this as a journey.  I encourage this as my experience has shown that attaining psychological safety requires several components that work together.  With that in mind, I’ve created, tested, and applied what I dub the Psychological Safety Roadmap.  This roadmap is meant to be adaptive as your starting point and the dynamic as each organization is different.  The journey and practices therein are meant to be spaced-out and applied over months as building psychological safety takes time.  As you proceed with your journey, you may also add or adapt the components of the roadmap.  
The components or metaphorically the cities along the journey to psychological safety include: Get to know one anotherEstablish Safety NormsShow Vulnerability; and Practice Safety via Feedback.  Within each city, there are a lot games and practices you can visit or try, each supporting the city you are in.  It is important to understand that the roadmap is not meant to be sequential and instead, several cities may be visited concurrently.  The only exception is you should visit the city of Getting to know one another before visiting the city of Showing Vulnerability.  My experience has shown that it is easier to show vulnerability after you get to know someone. 

Now let’s visit each city on the roadmap.  The city of Get to know one another includes practices and games where team members will, well, get to know one another.  The intent is if we know about each other, conversations tend to be safer and easier. This includes practices and games such as “Who am I?”, “If I were an animal, what would I be?”, “How do we educate ourselves”, and “Checking-in”.  

The second city on the roadmap is Establish Safety Norms.  The intent here is to make meetings a safe space to encourage speaking up with ideas, questions, and concerns.  This includes practices and games such as “All voices will be heard”, “Learn to repeat”, and encourage such attributes as being curious and non-judgmental. 

The next city is Show Vulnerability with the intent that being open and showing vulnerability helps build trust and creates a safe space within a team.  This includes practices and games such as “Circle of Vulnerability”, “I Feel Safer When”, and “Three Before Me”. 

The fourth city on the roadmap is Practice Safety via Feedback. The intent is giving feedback with good intent helps build trust and create strong relationships.  This includes practices and games such as "Appreciative feedback", "Differentiating feedback", and "Reflection for improvement".  

As you approach the Psychological Safety Roadmap, remind yourself that it is not meant to be a sequential journey nor are the games and practices a definitive list of what can be applied along the journey.  You (or your team) are meant to visit several cities (and practices and games therein) sometimes concurrently and it will take many months to achieve psychological safety.  Enjoy the journey and remember that your goal is to create a safe environment for people to speak up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.  This can lead to high performing teams and innovative ideas. 

To learn the basics of psychological safety, consider reading: Psychological Safety leads to High-Performing Teams.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Can Agile Games help you build Psychological Safety?

What are the advantages of attending an Agile Games conference? Let's look at Agile Games 2018 (in Boston) as an example.  This particular Agile Games focused on psychological safety.  The primary advantage of bringing the latest psychological safety and agile related concepts and practice back to your company, helps you lead to higher performing teams and greater company success.

First, what is Psychological Safety?

Google's Project Aristotle showed that team performance is indicated by one primary attribute: Psychological Safety. This is the degree to which team members can speak up without fear of retribution. Amy Edmondson has shown that psychological safety and accountability create the most productive teams. 

Second, what are the advantages of Agile Games?  

This 3-day conference (
in the greater Boston area - Burlington, MA on April 9-11) explored ways to use serious interactive games to significantly improve team performance by increasing psychological safety and other key attributes. It focused on using games, collaborative activities and interactive exercises to support the values, principles and practices of lean and agile. What are some of the topics being covered?

Third, who are some of the Speakers and their Topics?   

When approaching Psychological Safety games, how do you balance uncomfortable situations, harmless triggering of the impostor syndrome while getting to the real essence of safety that can lead to high performance?  How do we steer between frivolity and personal risk? Tim Ottinger explored guidelines for safely sharing games that teach. 

In achieving psychological safety, how can you use games to “Stop the fear pandemic” where you encounter endless meetings, employees’ disengagement, blame and a lack of trust?
 Dana Pylayeva introduced agile games designed to increase empathy, build connections and practice risk taking in a "safe to fail" setting. 

Experience interactive games for building Psychological Safety. Craft team norms for a psychologically safe environment. Practice constructive non-judgmental feedback to strengthen your relationships. Mario Moreira 
will work you through this and you will leave with a Psychological Safety Roadmap that can be adapted to your company. 

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Woven Together - A Practice to Build Authentic Connection and Psychological Safety


By Jody Gold with Mario Moreira

The game is changing.
 Hierarchies are flattening out. Companies are re-organizing to profit from the agility and collective intelligence of smart, flexible teams.  The concept of “leadership” itself is changing—from individual leadership that devises strategy and drives troops into battle, to relational leadership that catalyzes the creativity and commitment of all team members.

The good news is that there are constructive frameworks from the isolation, frustration, and disengagement that reduce collective learning and performance, to fully engaged, highly coordinated, innovative and agile teams that increase learning and performance. One such framework is the Matrix Leadership Networks that helps you successfully navigate this transformation.

Woven Together is an early practice and part of Matrix Leadership that helps strengthen the fabric of your team. Icebreakers and team-building exercises are often fun but their value fades.  Woven Together builds authentic connection, curiosity, and care among team members that last. People who’ve worked on teams together for years often rarely know about each other as people.  They may not know that John has a baby girl, and fills up with love when he talks about her getting her first tooth, or that Jennifer gets lit up by the smells, sounds, and tastes of street food when she is in another country. 
Woven Together raises energy in the room and can be used as a stand-alone activity.  It’s a tangible introduction to core Matrix concepts like seeing relationships as first class entities that Mario Moreira describes in his article (part 1 of this series) and the entire network of relationships within a team as the relational infrastructure that Jody Gold describes in part 2 of the series.  You can practice Woven Together with your team, right now.

Set-up

The ingredients include your team, a ball of yarn, 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your team, and enough space to stand in a comfortable circle.

Determine if each person in the circle will say just their name or their name, role, years in role, years at company, years doing agile.  This will depend on how well the facilitator and team members know each other.

You are person A.  You will explain the activity and model the two most important components: 1) forming a connection with one person—person B—and speaking to that person only, instead of scanning from person to person as we’ve all learned to do, and 2) telling person Bsomething that lights you up’ in a way that is genuine and concise.

Steps 
  1. Person A wraps the end of yarn around a forefinger and loosens enough yard equal to the distance between person A and B.  Person A throws the ball of yarn to BA speaks directly and only to B.
  2. Person A says their Name.  Person B says their Name. 
  3. Person A shares, “Something that lights me up is…”
  4. B responds in a few words to complete the connection, “Cool. Thanks for telling me that. I want to know more about that. Etc.”
  5. Person B chooses person C.  Repeat steps 1-5 (figure 1)
  6. C chooses D and repeats steps 1-5.  Iterate until all people steps 1-5 and the ball of yarn is back at A  (figure 2).
  7. After the yarn is back at person A, ask people to share what the experience was like and how things feel different now than before the activity.  

Final Thoughts

If Woven Together is used to introduce other Matrix practices, you may invite observations about the structure itself and its capacities.  Participants will name many characteristics of distributed leadership before they’ve learned about them formally.

Woven Together almost runs itself.  It’s amazing how much authentic connection, trust, and psychological safety arise from sharing ‘What Lights You Up.’  As the one leading the activity, be prepared for someone to say that speaking to only one person feels rude, exclusive, or uncomfortable.  Of course it may—scanning from person to person is a deep cultural norm.  Others may describe a sense of ease staying in connection with one person, like talking one-on-one with a friend.

Woven Together is also a good way for everyone to hear everyone else’s name a couple of times, and to quickly know who’s in what role and for how long, and/or how long they’ve been on the team or in the company.  It’s a great activity for a new team, a team whose membership has changed, or a new cross-functional project.

You have everything you need right now to turn thirty minutes into gold.  If you would like more information, consider contacting Jody Gold to discuss Woven Together or to learn more how the Matrix framework equips teams to accurately sense and effectively respond to complex and chaotic challenges leading to higher performing teams.  

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Read Part 1 & 2 of the Matrix Leadership series:
(Part 1) Importance of treating Relationships as First Class Entities 
(Part 2) Strengthening the Relational Infrastructure to Build High-Performing Teams

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Strengthening the Relational Infrastructure to Build High-Performing Teams


By Jody Gold with Mario Moreira

Teams, not individuals, are the essential building blocks of sense-making and action-taking in organizations.  Research, theory, and experience tell us that great teams depend as much on the relationships between the people, as the people themselves.

When I was younger, I spent years practicing leadership development the way most consultants do. We focused on strengthening the skills of individuals and hoped that teams would automatically improve as a result. We probably knew that relationships are the connective tissues that hold teams together, but we didn’t provide the mindsets, maps, or tools for people on teams to take care of the entire network of relationships themselves. Improving the skills of individuals is like lifting weights without strengthening and stretching the ligaments and tendons that connect them.

Matrix Leadership provides the practices needed to build the capacities teams need to perform as interconnected, coordinated, adaptive systems—MatrixLeadership Networks™. It’s the ‘how’ of how we think and act like we’re in it together.  This is true whether the ‘it’ is diversity and inclusion, building resilient communities, or succeeding in complex and chaotic business environments. 



The heartbeat of our approach is building the relational infrastructure™ that is the most important contributor to and predictor of a high-performing team.  Economic activity and value creation can only happen when working infrastructure (roads, bridges, tunnels; power grids; telecommunication; the Internet, etc.) support them. Might relational infrastructure be equally important?

Research from MIT[i] and Google[ii] show that the pattern and quality of interactions within teams contributes more significantly to high-performance than the personalities, experience, skills, and individual intelligence of team members combined. In the image above, a blue line between two people represents a relationship, the first-class entities that Mario Moreira writes about in his recent article. Wider lines illustrate more interactions, more capacity, and deeper relationships.  The entire network of connections within a team comprises the relational infrastructure. 

Developing the capacity for team members to speak to each other—in the open—is an indicator of a healthy relational infrastructure.  It replaces the common norms of talking offline, not engaging, or scapegoating.  We call this speaking “in the eyes and ears of the whole”—a capacity that creates the foundation for many other high-functioning behaviors, including delivering effective feedback.

Agile uses early and iterative feedback about products so developers can generate more valuable and higher quality products faster. Matrix Leadership uses early and iterative feedback to optimize the relationships that high-performing teams depend on.  Feedback about relationships is the most direct way to build trust, psychological safety, and resilience so teams can turn their energy into results instead of friction. 

Both agile and Matrix Leadership bring feedback into the open where it can do the most good.  When entire teams understand their shared challenges, they are better able to collectively solve them.  In addition to improved feedback, a healthy relational infrastructure supports other behaviors including increased ownership and accountability; collaboration and innovation; engagement and satisfaction; and leadership that is distributed, flexible, and emergent.

Relationships are first class entities, real things that can be built, maintained, and repaired.  Yet it’s the entire web of relationships, the relational infrastructure, within the best teams that enable them to out-think, out-perform, and out-happy the others. 

Thanks Mario for inviting me to expand these concepts with you. 

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We hope you enjoyed Part 2 of the Matrix Leadership series. Consider reading Part 1 & 3 
(Part 1) Importance of treating Relationships as First Class Entities 

- (Part 3) Woven Together - A Practice to build Authentic Connection and Psychological Safety 


[i] Pentland, Alex S. (2012, April). The New Science of Building Great Teams. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/04/the-new-science-of-building-great-teams
[ii] Duhigg, Charles. (2016, Feb. 25). What Google Learned from its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.  Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html