Leading by example

We often talk about building a culture of collaboration, of creativity, at work. We like to feel like our team members are free to raise their concerns, share problems they have spotted and seek help. It is not enough to think this or even to say that this is what we strive for in our team. Leaders have to lead by example. And so do team members, if they want to become collaborators par excellence.

So I wanted to thank strategy+business for their recent interview with Edgar Schein, where he points out some of the pitfalls organisation fall into when trying to change their culture. I have taken the liberty to reproduce a few lines below, as they illustrate my point, but I urge you to read the full article on the s+b website. (You will need to register.) You can follow this link or look for the article “A Corporate Climate of Mutual Help” by Art Kleiner and Rutger von Post.

“Better teamwork requires perpetual mutual helping, within and across hierarchical boundaries. I don’t see how we’re going to get there unless we create cultural “islands” — situations in which people can go outside the organization’s norms and practices and explicitly create this mutual helping relationship. In the cardiac unit, this means the surgeon saying to the nurse, “First of all, let’s get on a first-name basis, and then I’m going to try very hard to listen to you.” The people with the most authority and established knowledge must make the others feel psychologically safe, so that when they’re back in the heat of operations, everyone will speak up freely when something is wrong. The surgeon must know what questions to ask in order to be more helpful. In any helping situation, “humble inquiry” is a key intervention to equilibrate the relationship between the vulnerable person asking for help and the powerful helper.”

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