By Norma Lynch, PMP
I recently presented at PMXPO held on 25 March 2021. This was a great event with 62,000 global attendees and included featured speakers, exhibits and networking activities.
My presentation “Make It Safe to Think Different” focused on the five steps to make the environment safe so that team members are comfortable expressing themselves and thinking different. In most organizations today, people are holding back far too often – reluctant to say or ask something that somehow may make them look bad. They sit in silence instead of collaborating openly with each other, sharing their knowledge, voicing their concerns, asking questions, admitting mistakes and thinking different.
Making the environment safe for candid conversations and diversity of thinking is one of the key drivers for high performing teams. The following are the five steps to make it safe to think different:
- The first step is to establish trust and rapport between project team members – we need people to get to know each other on a personal level. We need people to do less telling, more asking and better listening.
- The second step is to set the stage for candor and curiosity. To do this, we need to reframe failure as success if we learn from it. We also need to emphasize that there is a lot of uncertainty and interdependence in the important work that they do on teams. Therefore, people need to be alert to potential threats and issues and feel comfortable speaking up about them.
- Next, we need to ensure that everyone’s voice is in the game, and so we need to invite participation that people find compelling and genuine by being humble and curious.
- Then and only then can we encourage innovation. We need to encourage the mindset of creator not critic. We need to welcome diversity of thinking. We want the team to embrace the notion of building up instead of tearing down.
- Finally, to ensure that people continue to feel safe and to think different, we need to thank people for their engagement. This is a critical step as it reinforces a climate of safety and ensures that people will continue to feel safe and think different.
During my presentation, I received a lot of great questions that we didn’t get a chance to cover, and my responses are below.
- 1. Can a company’s climate change without personnel change?
A company’s climate or culture is “the way we do things around here.” It is set by its leaders. So as employees, we look at what they reward and measure. We look at how they treat people. We look at how they respond when they are challenged. We look at how they react when mistakes are made. This guides our thinking and behaviour. So, if the personnel you refer to are the leaders of the organization, then the culture will not change unless they leave or they proactively change the way they do things around the company.
- 2. When the PMO doesn’t control the hiring/firing at an organization, how can they protect employees who challenge processes/norms?
As leaders within the PMO, we should be focused on ensuring that the PMO goals are aligned with the business and company goals and that the PMO will significantly impact bottom-line results. Therefore, we need to create high performing teams where it is possible and permissible to speak up. We should encourage teams to create a team charter where they decide the norms and processes for working together, because when people are involved in the creation of anything, they are more committed to it. We should then support our teams in carrying out the work of the PMO and we should have their back.
- 3. At what stage does feeling safe occur? Does it occur across stages?
Feeling safe or not feeling safe depends on how people are treated at all stages of team formation. It depends on how conflict is managed and will determine if people feel safe about speaking up. People will begin to feel safe if they feel their voice is being heard even when they are challenging the current thinking. However, feeling safe can stop in an instant, if someone were to challenge the status quo, admit a mistake or voice a concern and the response was a severe reprimand or a torrid of abuse. Then, people will possibly opt for silence the next time.
I had a great time presenting, and the full presentation will be available on demand through 31 January 2022. Visit PMI Virtual Experience Series 2021 for more details.