Safety has perhaps never been more talked about in (virtual) boardrooms around the world than it is right now. The ‘fear factor’ has been heightened for most people on so many levels…physical, emotional, financial, career, etc.
I was speaking with a senior leader of a tech company…I’ll call him John (original I know!).
John was sharing that, previous to the pandemic, his was not a ‘work from home’ culture. He was used to directing his team in person, being able to check in with them on how they were progressing on a project or with a client.
He was very focused on results and tasks and trying to motivate his team to serve the customer. John shared today, almost with some surprise in himself, that his first focus now is to check in with his team on how they are doing, do they have everything they need, how are they feeling today, are they feeling safe, what are their biggest fears right now?
“You know it is interesting and kind of sad in a way,” he revealed, “when we shared the same office space I may have asked ‘How are you?’ but if I’m honest with myself I didn’t really mean it, or truly listen to the response.
It was an automatic nicety before getting down to business. Now when I ask, ‘How are you?’, I really mean it and I want to listen to all the nuances of what is going on with that person in their life right now so I can take care of them first and give them a forum to share their fears before we get down to business.”
As we explored this shift, he shared that his biggest fear when the org moved to work from home mode was that productivity and motivation to get results would drop.
How was his team possibly going to be as productive as they were in the office? “What I have found,” he said, “As I drive to create connection and give my team a safe forum to share and explore their fears AND maintain the clear goals and expectations…they are performing beyond my expectations! They don’t need to be micro-managed.”
Psychological safety and authentic connection have always been the cornerstone for the most innovative and effective teams and the best work cultures.
People can’t operate at their best if they are living in fear and have no outlet to express that fear.
John shared that this has been the biggest and most surprising feedback he is getting from his team, the opportunity to share their fears in a safe and non-judgmental environment has been both powerful and empowering.
According to Amy Edmonson, Harvard Professor and pioneer of the concept, psychological safety is “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up”. In Google’s 4 year study of teamwork effectiveness, their definition asks the question ”Can we take risks in this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?”
Are We Safe?
What can you do to help your team navigate through these uncertain times? How can you create a safe space for your team to bring their whole humanity to work with them?
- Lead from the HEART
- It doesn’t have to be perfect, just let people know you care about them and their safety
- You can say things like…
- First, how are you and your family doing?
- What do you need to take care of yourself?
- Is there anything I can do to make things a bit easier for you right now?
- How can I help?
- LISTEN…really Listen
- Truly listen, without thinking about how you are going to respond. People don’t always need you to help them solve a problem, sometimes there is no solution, they just want to feel heard and have a safe place to vent.
- You can respond with…
- That sounds really hard…and then be silent.
- Are you looking for help with solutions or do you just need a place to vent/share?
- What do you need from me right now?
- Wow, I don’t even know what to say that would be helpful right now but I feel honored that you trusted me enough to share that.
- Invite conversation about FEAR
- Most of us don’t like conflict and we certainly don’t enjoy talking about our fears. Vulnerability has not typically been valued in the workplace however now more than ever inviting people to share their fears can free them up.
- Again you are not trying to solve their fears or placate them…you are just providing a safe forum for them to share
- You can invite conversation with questions like…
- So, what’s your worst fear right now? And why would that be so bad? And why would that be so bad? – continuing to ask that one question will take someone to the heart of their fear…once they have really connected with what the ‘bottom’ looks and feels like, there is potential for them to shift. Next question might be, In that bottom scenario is there anything that is within your control?
- Or you might use this model…What’s the worst-case scenario as a result of X? What’s the best-case scenario? What’s the probable scenario? – concept derived from The Worry Cure
- Invite ACTION
- Again, this is about them, not about you! Telling someone what you think they should do just negates all the good that came from being a good listener! It puts judgment back into the equation which decreases safety. Again, I will repeat, this is not about what you would do!
- Inviting the person to brainstorm ways they might take to take control in an out of control situation can increase a sense of safety and security
- You might ask…
- Is there any action you want to take on what we just talked about?
- If NO, that’s ok, Is there anything I can do to further support you?
- If YES, Is there anything you can think of that will make you feel more in control of X situation?
- What are 3 things you could do today that will help with X?
- Do you want me to check in with you tomorrow, next week to see how you are progressing on your actions?
There is so much right now in the world that is outside our control.
That’s a fact, and fear tends to reside in those things we believe are being done ‘to us’ that we have no control to do anything about.
Providing a forum for people to share their fears, making it okay to talk about struggles, and then helping them create a plan for what they do have control over gives your team the message that they are safe with you.
John has been experiencing a higher level of engagement, innovation and camaraderie among a team that no longer shares the same office space...what's happening for you?
Download our free Creating Safety for Virtual Success guide here:
We would love to hear what you are doing for yourself and your team around inviting the fear and creating safety!