This interview is part of our ongoing ‘5 Questions’ series where we ask thought leaders, who we have had the pleasure of partnering with, about their work.
Gustavo fell in love with biking when he was a small child in Argentina; his first bike was red. The night before we spoke, he marinated chicken with lemon, garlic, yogurt, and tandoori spices before grilling it on charcoal. Without hesitation, he will tell you that Roger Federer has the most aesthetically pleasing game in the history of tennis.
I asked him five questions related to the brilliant work that he does – the following is a summary of our conversation….
1. What is ‘psychological safety’ and what can leaders do to cultivate it?
Psychological Safety is a critical element of any healthy team or company culture. When it is present, the team presents conditions that allow for interpersonal risk taking: speaking up, challenging anyone – including leadership, creatively brainstorming. Psychological Safety allows people to feel accepted, and to know that they will not be laughed at or ignored. People are allowed to take risks.
However, there is a difference between psychological safety and trust. Trust is between individuals, and psychological safety refers to the collective dynamic of teams. ‘Safety’ in this context also doesn’t mean being overly conservative or risk-averse. On the contrary, it is the foundational level of respect that actually allows you to take risks and create an innovative culture.
Leaders need to create the right conditions and role model these behaviors. However, it must be something that is collective and embodied by the entire team; it can’t just ‘come from the top’. If you are on a team within a larger context, even if senior leadership doesn’t promote psychological safety, you can do it within your own team – that is the power of subcultures.
There are many tactics that people can use to promote Psychological Safety. The most important one is giving people space to talk and taking turns in conversation – giving people ‘equal airtime’. Something that helps give space to everyone is for louder voices and senior leaders to speak last. Silence can actually also give people space to express themselves; silent brainstorming and individual thinking time can help people prepare ideas to present.
2. In your work with clients, what type of resistance do you most often encounter, and how do you overcome it?
The most frequent, but least addressed, type is the resistance from formal leaders. One will hear variations of this lament from leadership, “my people don’t do this, and my team doesn’t do that” – so it feels like everyone needs to change but the senior leaders themselves. Leadership often expects consultants to challenge the team but not them.
3. You have mentioned that organizations should focus on defining roles and accountabilities. What advice do you have for leaders around how you hold people accountable? How might one handle cases where expectations have not been met?
It is important to understand that freedom and accountability are two sides of the same coin. Some things can be very open – but some things must be firm (for example, meetings always begin and end on time). Be clear on what is allowed and what is not allowed; then follow through.
It is helpful to think of the roles that people play in the team rather than the title that is affixed to their name. Work with the team to define the outcomes that need to be achieved rather than starting with the tasks that need to be completed – this is a critical shift in mindset for some leaders.
When it comes to accountability – by focusing on outcomes and the roles that people play, you create the conditions under which success can be evaluated collectively. It is essential that you are not evaluating the person but focus instead on whether or not the outcomes are being achieved. People might fail in some roles but really excel in others.
4. You have created content and design tools around team rituals. Why are they important, and can you give an example of an interesting ritual that emerged from work with one of your clients?
Today, people are generally more aware of the importance of Psychological Safety…but not a lot of people are aware of the value of team rituals. Sports teams practice a lot of rituals and can be a great source of inspiration. The New Zealand rugby team famously practices the Haka before matches. It could be superficially described as a ritual for intimidating your rival before you compete. What people don’t know, however, is that the team also has a ritual of cleaning its locker room at the host stadium – it shows gratitude to the host, but it is also about practicing humility. The members of this team are wealthy and successful people, but they have this ritual to bring their team values and culture to life.
Rituals need to be simple and incite reactions. A really interesting one emerged from a team at a recent workshop. They struggled to make decisions and often ended up scheduling additional meetings, ultimately postponing a decision. Taking inspiration from Saturday Night Live, where “the show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes because it’s 11:30,” they created the ritual of entering a decisive mindset with a hypothetical red light – meaning ‘we are on the air’ – that required them to come to a decision.
5. You have run multiple, very successful full day workshops that are completely virtual. What tips can you give for keeping remote teams engaged during meetings or workshops?
- You need to design for participation – actively build in features that bring people in.
- While you will enter with an agenda, you must be flexible and willing to pivot based on your reading of the audience and the evolving outcomes that you are aiming at.
- There must be breaks and a variety of tasks that require different types of energy.
- Do pre-session activities that help people bring the right mindset to the meeting and acquaint themselves with the tools before the collective work starts.
- Never forget the power of building bonds between participants. You may have strangers from different time zones – before you get to work, it is important to build relationships, and you can do this by starting with an exercise that is personal.
- Use breakout rooms and facilitate sharing/critique portions of the meeting.
- We have a different, brief icebreaker after each break – it might incorporate things that are fun and physical.
- We have a digital whiteboard with questions and challenges that are catalogued during the workshop. We will visit that from time to time – it helps reduce interruptions too at other parts of the journey.
There is nothing magic about it, but you have to be tuned to the energy and create a rhythm. Create activities that can re-energize the digital room. Ask people about what they have learned and how they will apply it – help them make the work personal and real.
Gustavo Razzetti helps organizations build fearless teams that work faster and smarter. He is the author of three books, multiple design tools, and dozens of articles about team culture. You can learn more about his work at https://liberationist.org/
Matt Kelly is a Partner and Business Designer with Do Tank, a consultancy that helps teams design strategies, value propositions, and compelling stories. You can learn more at https://www.dotankdo.com/