If trust and psychological safety make up the backbone of a high performing and happy team, what is the thing that gets in the way? I’ll be blunt: it’s a big pile of B.S. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me take it back to what happens before the B.S. gets deep.
Because teams are made up of fallible human beings, there will come a time (many times, in fact) when we hit a bump in the road. That bump might be a process challenge. Something went wrong in the process of completing a project: an unexpected delay, an unaccounted for challenge, a miscommunication. That bump might be an interpersonal challenge: different working styles, conflicting personalities, bias. Whatever it is…it’s causing a problem.
For just about all of us, that bump in the road is going to trigger some fear. That is normal. That’s the “uh-oh” warning light that something is in need of attention. What happens often that isn’t so great is that Perfectionism comes in to save the day by attempting to protect us from what we fear. Except that Perfectionism is not very good at doing what it promises it will do. Brene Brown, social scientist who studies perfectionism and shame, describes perfectionism as a “self-destructive belief system” that convinces us that if we are flawless in our execution of…well…everything, then we can avoid blame and shame. Writer, Ann Lamott takes it one step further and says that it is the belief that we hit every step perfectly we “won’t have to die.” The irony is, of course, that perfectionism is a fallacy. It is unattainable and therefore actually increases blame and shame.
When we are in blame (B), we put up a deflector shield that bounces every “OMG-I’m-not-good-enough-I’m-a-failure” feeling we have and sends it out to whomever is within striking distance. We go on the offensive, attacking and finding fault in everyone else in order to distract from any error within us. When we are in shame (S), we are shrinking and retreating from everyone else in order to hide our (real or perceived) faults that have clearly resulted in the reason everything is now ruined forever (catastrophize much?). But whatever B.S. we are rolling around in, we are not connecting, not nurturing trust, not creating psychological safety (for ourselves or others) and not working on smoothing out the bump that got us stuck in the first place. This is a perfect storm for a recurring behavior that turns into habit, which turns into the norm. Now we’ve got a culture problem that’s infected the entire team.
What’s the off-ramp from this circular track?
[Please, Renee, don’t say vulnerability. Make it something different. How about ‘logic’ or ‘dark chocolate’ or ‘avoidance’ or ‘bad reality TV’….anything but vulnerability.]
It’s vulnerability. Sorry. Take it up with Brene Brown; she’s the smarty-pants researcher who proved it. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, it opens up our ability to admit we are afraid of what has gone wrong, reach out for help to come up with new solutions, and be brave enough to risk trying something different. That vulnerability changes us for the better and it changes those around us too. Those around us feel trusted, connected, and safe because we relied on them and we didn’t blame them. In turn, that allows us all together to be more curious about what we can do differently next time around. When we hit the next bump in the road we have a blueprint for how we can be vulnerable, connect, and find the fix together.