Jane was the first female senior vice president responsible for a team of eight. All the members were all men, all from the same region, all had similar university degrees. Jane came from another domain, not having gone to the same university as the others and not having followed the traditional path to be a VP. When she came to our first coaching session, she was angry and emotional. She felt isolated and left out.
“I don’t feel safe,” said Jane. “It’s horrible. I can’t sleep Sunday nights because I worry about how the meeting will be. I practice what I will say and how I will say it …”
I played back the words and asked Jane what it was like to listen to what she had said. What was the impact of her state of mind on her work? I encouraged her to find here-and-now examples relevant to her interpersonal interactions. I know that being vulnerable can be scary.
“It sounds exhausting, Jane. Is that the case?” Jane nodded.
“Do you think the others are feeling similar feelings?” I enquired.
Jane reflected, and I gently encouraged her to be curious and let the matter rest, saying that we could rethink it later on.
“Can we dig a bit deeper into this word safety?” I enquired.
“Yes,” Jane said.
“What’s not safe? Give me some more colour to the context.”
Indeed, challenging clients is essential in coaching. Otherwise, established patterns repeat themselves and never get resolved. I help my clients who are dealing with difficult dilemmas to assume responsibility so as to shake them up into becoming aware of a certain behaviour pattern. But I give feedback gently with the positive intention that I wish for them to improve. I endeavour to be generous and positive, and I avoid empty compliments. In this case, it was my responsibility to encourage Jane to assume responsibility. Jane saw that the problems were outside herself. I encouraged her to describe a real-life situation at work and to look at her role.
“Every Monday we have the executive committee meeting with the CEO and the executive leadership team, but I cannot concentrate. I have my script ready in my head in case I get asked a question….. but I feel judged. I’m not comfortable at all. I have a real fear that they are judging me.”
“Is there trust among team members?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe not, maybe so. I don’t even think about it. I only worry about myself and how I come across.”
“Do you feel part of the team?”
“Yes, I do, ironically. I know that I am in the right place, I have the right skills, and I don’t feel like the poster girl or the token woman. It’s more about safety.”
We talked about the concept of psychological safety in teams. She had not heard this term before and was intrigued. So, I gave her an article to read before our next session. The article, “What Makes a Google Team Effective?” where it describes a series of interviews conducted with teams at Google. What they found was that there are five key dynamics that set successful teams apart. Number one is psychological safety. Fundamentally, this means that when a team has a high degree of psychological safety, they take risks without feeling insecure, embarrassed, or judged.
“I see that the processes and the content of our meetings could be so much riskier, more innovative, and definitely more creative if there were more safety. We are playing safe,” Jane said boldly in our next session. “I sensed something but could not name it, and maybe I did not have the courage to call it out.”
During the sessions that followed, Jane gradually came to an acceptance and understanding that the first changes she needed to make were within herself. She had thought about the concept of psychological safety and decided to take some responsibility and be accountable as the first step by talking about the concept with the group and outlining the benefits of psychological safety in teams.
“What I came to realise is that psychological safety is a shared belief. I can’t do this alone. We all have to encourage each other to check-in and challenge each other. What I was feeling was something everyone was feeling to some extent….. but we all have different ways of managing and manifesting it. I noticed it and named it. This was the first step in helping to create more psychological safety.”
Indeed, psychological safety means different things to different people. What is imperative is that its essence remains strong. Team members create an atmosphere where people can show up and be themselves creating a safe environment.
Once Jane had come to terms with what had to change, she dared herself, and in turn gave others in the team permission to be different, to act differently, and thus really get to the essence of what their purpose as a high-performing team was.
When our sessions were over, I shared the Glinda the Good Witch quote:
“You’ve always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.“
How to Get Out of Your Own Way: Reflection for Rewiring
Ask yourself the following questions, and answer them truthfully:
- What is it that makes it worth it for you to consider even changing?
- If things worked out exactly the way you wanted, what would be different?
- What are the pluses and minuses of changing and not changing?
- If this change were easy, would you want to make it?
- What makes it hard?
Part of the developmental process is reflective practice. This is a way of studying your own experiences to improve the way you act and react. The act of reflection is a great way to increase confidence and become a more proactive person. Engaging in reflective practice helps to improve the quality of people management.
It is a “sequence” because the action you take in the final stage will feedback into the first stage, beginning the process again. Following is the sequence:
- Description—What happened?
- Feelings—What did you think and feel about it?
- Evaluation—What were the positives and negatives?
- Analysis—What sense can you make of it?
- Conclusion—What else could you have done?
- Action plan—What will you do next time?
Reference: How To Get Out Of Your Own Way