Safe place as a strategic organizational tool
Team anxiety may come from different sources. It may be something external, brought into the team by causes outside of it, such as for instance COVID-19, customer situations such as insolvency or financial crisis. They may be also generated within the team.
Interestingly, a lot of these issues whether internal or external to the team, can be mitigated by establishing safe team dynamics allowing the team members to share their work and their circumstances in a safe and constructive manner.
When team members ‘meet’ in this safe place, their interactions are more genuine, and lead to enhanced productivity and success. This leads to a virtuous cycle where the team is on a constant improvement path based on wellbeing and efficiency.
Leapto is such a safe place for teams to interact. The Leapto tool works bottom up by empowering the team to identify and address the causes of stress, whether they are internal or external. Routinely used, Leapto also becomes an effective management tool for the team leader who is now able to regularly take the pulse of the organization and immediately address areas of friction and stress within the team.
As part of my blog series, I will try to bring attention to certain team dynamics that are known to generate stress. I will start with one cause of stress which is often hard to identify: the anxiety related to sharing information about one’s work circumstances. It is not always easy, for instance, to timely acknowledge excessive workload, lack of access to information, or the feeling of not been truly included. This is even more difficult when these issues are not properly discussed within the team or, worse, they are kept as personal issues of certain team members and not addressed as part of the team dynamics.
The inability to communicate these issues, not only cause stress to the individuals, but it hides the underlying dysfunctions, often diverting attention from the actual cause of the problem to a deleterious focus on the affected individuals. While management traditionally focuses on who rather than what, the underlying problem causing anxiety remains not addressed and develops into serious impediments to the pursuance of team's tasks. ultimately, impacting the company’s strategic goals. Often, by the time the issues causing anxiety are identified, discussed, and resolved too much time has passed, people may become sick or leave, and in some cases the whole team may be dismantled or reorganized leading to a new rationalization of tasks which may lead to the deprioritization or abandonment of the impacted projects. The end-results could well be the abandonment of a promising innovative technology or of a security requirement, or even a compliance process. For the team members, the frustration of the unachieved projects and the feeling of time wasted, add to the already existing anxiety and often leads to demotivation and resigned acceptance of the unproductive recurring processes (“this is the way things are here”) or to leaving their job.
Listening to individual team members cannot be left only to the single managers or team leaders. It requires a company culture that values open discussions and creates safe places for those to happen.
A company culture truly attentive to inclusion and mental wellbeing is the baseline to allows management to walk the talk and understand the advantages of addressing the causes of anxiety and stress. Attentive management also needs the right instruments to identify the issues leading to team stress. Establishing a safe place where the team members are comfortable sharing their work-related causes of anxiety and where their concerns are listened and followed by concrete actions by the whole team is an important tool for the team leaders.
As a lawyer my recurring experience with this theme mostly relate to missing chances in relation to compliance requirements or innovation. The undesired consequences of delaying or not pursuing the compliance and innovation projects could be dire for the entire company.
One example was related to a team of engineers that had never truly been enabled to internally disclosed their inventive ideas. The problem was known, and the management team reviewed the incentive scheme and the invention harvesting processes several times to no avail. The engineers were under a lot of pressure to solve many technical tasks, but they were hardly able to find the time and the chance to communicate with one another and, while the workload was unsustainable nobody wanted to be the first to bring it up as part of the problem for fear of being seen as the complaining team member. The team didn’t feel psychologically safe enough to discuss their issues. The problem as often happens, led to delays in the project due to certain people being burned out and other losing moral. In the end issued prototype could not pass the applicable quality requirements tests leading to a waste of resources and time to market.
Psychological safety can be built by having the whole team, including the team leader to follow steps after steps a program to address the identified issues. The data collected through those steps can help team leaders to better understand the underlying issues as well as what causes them, and see how, step by step they become addressable and solved as the entire team follows the remedy steps.
An objective process followed by the entire team, can be a true business organizational instrument for the team leaders to identify areas of improvements and better allocate tasks and responsibilities, while keeping an eye on the pulse and mental wellbeing of the team. A safe space to bring up team members circumstances affecting the work tasks can also become a place to recognize and value open discussion in a constructive and emotionally rewarding manner. This then leads to a cohesive team able to effectively contribute and work towards common goals.
In my next blog I would like to explore the importance of common goals and what common goals truly means. In the meanwhile, I recommend you try out Leapto in your team.