Showing vulnerability, being inclusive and listening carefully is a daily practice essential for self-organized teams.
One example of putting this into practice came through our Corporate EHS department ‘Tactical Meetings’. Initially, a measure to improve efficiency and effectiveness, these meetings significantly impacted the way our entire department interacted with each other – first face to face and then virtually. Our conversations developed into personal and appreciative interactions, providing significantly higher psychological safety for all colleagues.
Starting into self-organization
The story begins in 2018, when our department went through a reorganization. The result was a newly formed team of about 25 people all of whom had worked with one another before … but from that point, we needed a format to interact and communicate. Fact was, everyone was busy with internal meetings already, and the motivation to add just another meeting that would – due to the number of people involved – take hours was something no one would have opted for.
So, some members of the team volunteered to find inspiration regarding new concepts of interaction. Quite soon, we came across the Holacracy the approach, and learned how teams can design their meetings in a very efficient way.
Our Meeting Tuesday
Tactical meetings deal with day-to-day work. Their purpose is to triage issues that have come up during the week, and to remove obstacles – so that work can move forward. The formal output of Tactical meetings is in projects and actions, but they can be used to address any operational need: sharing information, giving updates, and requesting projects and actions from other colleagues. Ever since, we have been meeting every Tuesday morning for that Tactical meeting; afternoons are reserved for other meetings.
Morning Impulse and Check helping us be more fully present
When we still met each other physically in Munich, every meeting started with a “morning impulse”. That may have been a quiz, a brief mindfulness exercise, or motion games. After all, we have health promotion people in our team! Subsequently, we would do a brief check-in with each participant stating how they were doing. This helped us to understand where our colleagues were coming in from that day or to get something off our chests to help us be more fully present.
Tacticals in a virtual setting: conversation becomes more important than ever
Then, – COVID-19 – hit, and in March 2020, we all ended up working from home. We switched our Tacticals into a virtual setting. Of course, we had to skip the physical morning impulse.
We kept up the check-in. But, busy as we were with managing the crisis or maintaining our projects, we needed to save time, and kept that check-in short. The standard question was, “How are you doing this morning?”; and the standard reply would be: “I am good”, “…quite good”, “all good”.
Obviously, not everything could be good for all of us at all times. I sensed that. We all sensed that – and we talked about that in our one-on-one coffee chats. So, what to do?
After some weeks, one of the facilitators changed the check-in question: “Think about your work last week. Please share with us a moment when you were able to contribute one of your personal strengths.”
And all of a sudden, a space opened to narratives and listening. The ten-minute check-in turned into 25 minutes, going way beyond the standard slot. I was afraid that Ralf, our leader, would cut it short – but he didn’t!
That morning, we learned a lot from each other and also about ourselves. To speak about one’s strengths served to re-enforce our self-confidence as well as our motivation. To listen to these stories stirred our emotions. The underlying message there is – get connected – as a key element of psychological safety.
Since then, our check-ins have become a lot more colorful. At times, we will engage in small talk about our favorite movies, at other times we’ll do deep dives.
Why are Tactical Meetings so effective?
The Tacticals significantly impacted the way we interact with each other. It did so almost unnoticeably. The mere fact that we invested a considerable amount of time in discussing how we could move towards a higher degree of self-organization had its effects. Another contribution came from us taking turns in facilitating, and from maintaining meeting rules which apply to every participant – from student trainee to department head.
This allowed us to reach a significantly higher degree of psychological safety. We usually only notice this change we have undergone when guests or newcomers give us their feedback.
The role of leadership
This is Ralf Franke´s evaluation:
“From leaders, self-organization demands an open mindset, reflection on their leadership styles, and trust in their people as well as the courage to experiment with new formats. For me, our Tacticals used and continue, to be a space for learning. I’ll admit that, at the beginning, I would dash in with my opinions and comments; and I would typically think that my comments, and to dominate the discussion, were required from me at any point. My facilitators would then take me back to the strict rules of the tactical. So, I started to talk less and listen more. Since then, I have learned a lot – about the tasks of the team members, and about contexts – and a whole lot about the people.”Dr. Ralf Franke, Head of EHS at Siemens
Here’s an outlook
The most important key factor is that we have been practicing, at a weekly interval as to how to create and maintain psychological safety in our team. What is also relevant is our playful mindset. It’s all about a journey – on which you will probably never reach the state of perfection. So make the journey as much fun as possible.
This approach helped us a lot in coping with the fact that we haven’t physically seen each other for more than a year now. We have a basis to act on, and to practice bonding, that proves to be quite robust. It is a powerful enabler of psychological safety.
Thank you, @susannegold for the header illustrations.