“It’s Friday at the end of a 3-week sprint cycle, and it’s collab day. The extroverts in the room are feeling pumped. We have three or four back-to-back meetings in a cool lounge with a big screen, lined up. Each meeting will be packed with debate, ideation, sense-making, alignment and healthy collaboration, so I brace myself for impact.
Wait, what? Yes, that’s what I said, I literally brace myself for impact.
When I took this job there were two good offers on the table. I told my sister I’m picking this option because ‘these people are going to make me better.’ I wasn’t wrong. This team continually, practically, really chooses to be better, and a full day of collaboration is one of the ways that’s cyclically lived out.
But true transformation and growing in maturity will cost you, and for me in particular, the “collab” day is a very real reminder of that cost. Let me explain.
Everyone wants collaborative teams, but it’ll cost you your hobby horse and your individual way of doing things. In some corporates, you’ll refer to the different hats you wear, or it’ll be introduced by someone who says, “well you see from MY perspective…”
Typically when an idea is brought to the table, the finance person is concerned about the numbers, the sales and marketing representatives want “reach” and growth. The HR manager raises points about how this new idea will impact the people, and the IT department head is protesting that money will need to be allocated to build the infrastructure to bring this pipe dream to life. Each one believes the point they are raising is critical and that project cannot commence until they are satisfied that their concerns have been heard and addressed.
Personally, in the heat of this kind of collaboration moment, I’m struggling to hear my own thoughts above the fray. I’m making sense of the various contributions and desperately trying to come up with an idea that would satisfy everyone, including me. The reality is that we will all have to let go, even if it’s just a little. The pipe dream can actually be made a reality without your perspective being taken into account, and you have to make the call, together as a team, about what the overarching goal is, and commit to achieving it together, whether or not it’ll be done your way. That’s costly.
Everyone wants collaborative teams, but it’ll cost you your hobby horse and your individual way of doing things.
Everyone wants a psychologically safe environment, but it’ll cost you the safety of your cliques, and you’ll have to hear stuff you don’t always like. I remember when I worked in a large financial services organisation, I was surrounded by cliques and gossip. In a corporate environment where there isn’t an active, collective move towards a healthier organisational culture this can become something one gets used to as a fait accompli. But there was a defining moment for me where I chose to step out of the norm and pursue authenticity and psychological safety. I walked into my boss’s office and said, “Can we start over?”
“I’m not happy with some of the ways you do things so I’ve been complaining to other people about that. Let’s start over.”
Of course I had to tell the other people who were talking about her behind her back, that I would no longer be a part of the conversation, and it was costly. It was certainly a slightly safer environment psychologically, but it cost me.
Beyond Psychological Safety
Everyone wants innovative teams, but it’ll cost you your ego and personal bragging rights for the sake of team wins. I’ll be honest, I’m one of those people who likes to hide in a corner and quietly produce something and then jump out and say “ta-da” look at how cool I am.
If you want an innovative team however, this attitude won’t fly. In the complex global work environment in which we find ourselves, no one person can solve collective problems meaningfully, so teams have to exercise openness and generosity with their ideas. Most importantly, innovative teamwork requires us to leave our egos at the door, or at least learn to temper them so that we can win, together. That costs everyone.
In the complex global work environment in which we find ourselves, no one person can solve collective problems meaningfully, so teams have to exercise openness and generosity with their ideas.
Everyone wants to be able to have courageous conversations, but it’ll cost you the fear of doing it afraid. At the end of the marathon collab-day for example, the team had a quick huddle to discuss the goals for the next 3-week cycle. I had been running hard for the last few sprints, and as we discussed the next one I could tell I wasn’t going to make it. It took me a good 20min to speak up and just say that I wasn’t going to cope. I hesitated mostly because I know that in this team that works hard at being better, I would have to really be open and explain where I was coming from and allow others to take some of the load so we can still reach the set goal. And true to form, we had a real, raw conversation about where things are at and how we can tackle the weeks ahead, and it cost us. I had to deal with my own insecurities about wanting to feel competent at all times, and other team members had to pick up some of the slack for me.
Implementing strategies to build more innovative, collaborative, psychologically safe teams takes commitment and requires risk
After all that, I cried in the car on the way home. I felt exposed, yet safe; vulnerable, yet seen. I felt like I overcame some things, but was ever-so-slightly battered. Most of all I felt healthy, and that is such a rare thing in the work environment that it made me cry.
Implementing strategies to build more innovative, collaborative, psychologically safe teams takes commitment and requires risk (emotionally and mentally). It will take daily investment, and moment-by-moment yielding to the process for each individual team member.
But let me tell you, it’s so worth it. It’s hard but it’s worth it.
And you and your team will be better for it.
You can get access to Beyond Psychological Safety, a resource we put together to give you insight into what psychologically safe teams look like, what it looks like when teams are not safe, and how to move towards a more psychologically safe work environment.