It’s the last day at work before Christmas, people have clawed their way to the bubbles and the baubles, exhausted. You look at your team and you know that you have given everything to keep them going, keep them focused and close out the year. You are logging off your computer, remembering to change the snowy, festive background to something more suitable to the restart. Just as you allow your shoulders to untense a little and think about a couple of drinks and maybe an early night, one of your team walks in and presents you with the first present of Yuletide- a problem. There will be almost nothing you can do about it tonight, or even over the holiday weekend, but as they turn to leave, they thank you. They have offloaded, passed it to you and that’s a big relief… for them!
One of the most common concerns I hear from leaders is that they spend so much time dealing with the problems and challenges of their team members, they often fall behind on their own tasks and end up exhausted. Sadly, many organisations unintentionally operate reliance cultures; environments where employees are managed to do what they are asked, in the way they are asked, when they are asked. It has always been the way. Managers are there to ensure compliance and efficiency. It means that staff can always look to blame someone else or shift their challenges up the line.
What the last two decades have underlined is that this cannot continue. As the world has lurched from one crisis to another, we are all, no matter our pay grade, running just to keep up and to survive we need to find ways to be more proactive. One of the first things we need to consider is how we create a greater sense of ownership over the issues we face. We must create cultures where every member of staff feels confident enough to solve problems and innovate around challenges, without relying on their line manager or leader… you!
It isn’t easy by the way, and it won’t happen overnight, as after all we are dealing with lifetimes of convention, established from our earliest years in education. But cultures can be changed and to do so we need to have realistic expectations, be consistent and patient with each other. Put in the work and you could get to next Christmas and end up with a last-minute gift that isn’t a colleague’s problem.
Here are five things to think about, audit and action.
1. Do your teams have real cultures of psychological safety? Cultures are safe when people don’t feel judged for taking a challenge on and maybe not getting it right. This safety allows people to feel confident collaborating with others because the recognition that someone else may be more proficient in an area is not a reflection of their own personal weaknesses, but displays their strength as a team. Do your teams promote genuine cultures of honesty, reflection, and support?
2. Do you have high levels of trust in your teams? Trusting environments allow team members to rely on each other in absolute faith, knowing that people have their backs and that everyone is committed to playing their part to the fullest. A team that carries resentments and senses others’ lack of passion can be a real drain. Environments where low levels of trust impacts teamwork are places where people will always look to blame others and pass their problems along the line.
3. Is there real clarity in your teams? Are vision and values more than a website strapline? Do your managers and leaders live, breathe and personify the vision and values of the internal culture you are trying to create? People need consistency and continuity, they need clear, shared, and owned expectations. All it takes is one bad interaction, one weak link, and the whole thing can be jeopardised.
4. Does every member of the team see their value? The very best teams are truly united. Everyone, no matter their role, understands that what they are doing is of real value to the overall aim; whether they clean the office space or bring in key business. People need meaning to feel engaged, to feel a sense of shared responsibility and motivation. Hierarchies of importance are a breeding ground for division as they maintain a culture where other’s roles are seen as ‘less than’.
5. Do you take time to recognise and celebrate the smallest of wins? Culturally, we are too often programmed to look forwards, and victories are treated as inevitable stepping stones in the pursuit of continual progression. As a result, we rarely allow ourselves the time to enjoy the moment, to see the joy in our shared efforts. It is so important that as a leader, you keep your eyes open for successes. Take a moment and offer the opportunity for genuine congratulations and you can see the galvanising effect it can have on the people you work with.
Happy Holidays and here is to a more empowered New Year!