Why is it that some organisations can come up with creative solutions to problems while others struggle to adapt in the face of change? One answer may be in the subtle verbal or non-verbal signals people pick up from managers and leaders in the organisation. We are all constantly giving signals that are interpreted by others as a red or green light when it comes to “taking a risk” and making novel suggestions that might lead to thinking differently about issues or making changes to the way we do things.
Take a team meeting, for example, where a team member (let’s call her Jan) is thinking of making a suggestion for changing the way products are shipped that may save the company thousands of dollars each quarter. Various actions of the manager may be seen by Jan’s brain as signals that her suggestion would not be welcomed and so it would be a “risk” to say anything. The manager seems to be in a hurry, is looking at the clock, and has just reminded another team member to “sick to the point” and cut them off before they had finished their explanation. Jan has tried twice to break into the conversation and the manager has twice looked away. She remembers last week when someone else was told to “be more sensible” when they made a suggestion and that someone else was told their “job was on the line” when an innovation they suggested went wrong. Jan is not quite sure why, but she decides not to make her suggestion.
Creativity and Safety
Innovation and creativity flourish when people feel “safe” in their working environment. This means they need to be confident that their input and ideas will be welcomed, even if they are not adopted. There are a number of processes that are constantly working in the brain that help us to decide if we will do , or not do, something….. basically neurochemical acceleration and breaking system. When we feel safe we hit the “accelerator” but when we sense “danger” we hit the “beaks”.
Allowing and encouraging suggestions and feedback leads to higher engagement in the long term and more commitment due to activation of the “reward” pathways in the brain. Thus this organisation will have a culture of innovation rather than being “stuck” and unable to adapt in the face of unpredicted challenges.
Tips To Create Psychologically “Safe” Environments at Work
1) Recognise and stop bullying and lack of respectful conduct immediately
2) Encourage input and feedback from all team members… diverse ideas lead to more innovation. Be aware of how your verbal and non-verbal signals may be interpreted in terms of red or green signals
3) Model respectful conduct yourself at all times
4) In meetings acknowledge team member’s input
5) Facilitate exploration and linking of ideas by team members
6) Gently and thoughtfully provide opportunities for input from quieter team members through alternative strategies such as splitting into smaller groups, working outside formal meeting, allowing input via electronic or other collaborative platforms.
References:Brainwise Leadership: Practical Neuroscience to Survive and Thrive at Work, Connie Henson and Pieter Roussouw, 2013
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