Good morning!  Last week was exceptionally busy, so I’m trying to catch up with my life.  Lots going on, all good, and I’d like to get back to the lovely fall weather.

Fundamental to coaching is the idea that the coach exists in service of the client; that the coach has to figure out ways in which to be helpful, to support, and to tend to the needs of the client—and that all that happens in a manner that the client perceives as benevolent and risk-free.  I think the psychotherapist D. W. Winnicott would have used the term “holding environment” for the kind of relationship and process that the coach is trying to create, and while I am very aware that the coach is definitely not a therapist, the term seems apposite.  And it’s another one of the areas in which I think leaders could learn a lot from coaches, as one of the things they are trying to do is to create psychological safety.

I have talked with several people and groups lately about supporting risk-taking, because implementing a new practice is a risk.  I think it is no surprise that, of all the links I have shared, the one that has received the most hits is this one, an 11 minute TED talk by Amy Edmondson titled :”Building a psychologically safe workplace.”

Edmondosn’s research shows consistently that:

  1. Effective teams actually experience more failure than less-effective teams.  That seems counter-intuitive, but it indicates that more effective teams take more risks, and therefore experience more failure, but learn more from the trials they run.  More learning equals higher performance.
  2. Teams where the leadership makes explicit that they want input from everyone, even those who are telling them what the problems are, learn more quickly and out-perform other teams
  3. The point of all this failure is to learn quickly when the stakes are low so that there is no failure when the stakes are high. [This is sometimes known as failing forward.]

I refer you also to The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle.  It’s not my favorite book, but that’s mostly because it relies on the same examples that I feel like I’ve read a hundred times before—Navy SEALS, basketball teams, flight crews.  Nevertheless, there are lots of gems in the book, and lots for an organizational psychologist to love—the importance of listening, for example, and of embrace of failure.  There’s a great Amy Edmondson quotation:

“You know the phrase ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’?” Edmondson says. “In fact, it’s not enough to not shoot them. You have to hug the messenger and let them know how much you need that feedback. That way you can be sure that they feel safe enough to tell you the truth next time.”

I wish someone had told me that twenty years ago.  Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.

Best, Isobel

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