Posts Tagged ‘safety’

Safe Space

April 6, 2016


Have you ever been part of a group that is exhausting?

What about a group that is exhilarating?

In an increasingly complex world, what we know about and how we process work in teams is critical. Over the past 20 years the time spent in collaborative activities has increased by 50 percent or more. It’s common for employees to spend more than 75 percent of their time each day communicating with colleagues.

Groups deliver important  benefits. They accelerate  innovation, catch errors quickly and identify better solutions for vexing challenges. People that work in teams regularly achieve better results and are happier with their jobs. Evidence also suggests that profitability increases when workers collaborate more often.

While “employee performance optimization” is a common concern for any organization, it’s not enough to look only at individual professional development. It’s now vital to thoughtfully construct how people work together.

Stagger or Soar

Tech giant Google considered its  51,000 employees a fertile testing ground for team effectiveness. Not long ago they took on the challenge of learning why some teams stagger and others soar. Research done by sociologists and psychologists pointed them toward group norms. These are the shared values, expected standards and implicit “rules” for functioning when people gather. They vary relative to team composition – even if all operate in the same organization.

Group leaders are important referees and coaches because the “right” norms can raise a group’s intelligence, while the “wrong” norms can disable a group. Two vital factors raise collective intelligence: equal distribution of air time and social sensitivity or empathy towards team mates. Clear goals, reliable interdependence and accountability matter, too.

Feeling Safe

The “big” finding? Whether or not people work together effectively in a team reflects psychological safety. Safety is what Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, defines as “a confidence the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.” Effective teams, organizations and communities are safe. Progress and results  depend on it.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. ( She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her

Truth Telling

November 17, 2013


When intentionally seeking candor, people often invite commentary with: “Don’t sugarcoat it.”

While you consider the risk of a reply, your mind recalls Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. His raging declaration was:“You can’t handle the truth.”

Try Truth: Kill Politics

Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch NY, believes we can all be more effective with a little more honesty. She says the lack of politics at her current employer was a huge attraction. This translates to a practice she calls “front-stabbing.” It is a refreshing contrast to back-stabbing.  DiFebo says the culture she tries to foster is transparent: “When you have a problem with someone you just say: Look, this is the issue I have. I can get past it but what are you going to do to get past it? It just puts everything on the table and makes it so much easier to get your work done.”

Quality Reflection

Importantly, negative feedback doesn’t need to be a judgment on your skills or intellect. Simply, it can be a reaction to the quality of work. None of us does perfect work all the time. Most of us learners   want to make contributions and do better. Leaders and managers have a responsibility to provide quality reflection to peers, colleagues, and those they supervise. It helps people grow. It helps organizations perform.

Leaders Create Safe Space

So, why not foster more truth telling? It’s vital that work spaces are safe enough for candor. Leaders assure safety. It is the first step. Because denial and avoidance can be big coping strategies for us all, an environment that values facts and candor is key. Step two: try it. The truth can, indeed, set us free to help our people and organizations soar.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

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