Categories
Culture

2 must-haves to build a culture of learning

Success can come in many different forms, but if your organization wants to have a chance to continue succeeding, learning must be part of its DNA. Similarly, learning can be achieved by taking different paths (training, coaching, sharing, teaching, …), but most of the opportunities come from day-to-day work since that’s where people spend most of their time. However, practice by itself doesn’t guarantee learning.

Allowing team members to voice their thoughts and building an environment that stimulates taking risks are required to convert experience and practice into learning. However, these can only be achieved if psychological safety and blamelessness are present.

Psychological Safety

Can you think of an occasion at work when you held your thoughts? If so, why did you do that? Didn’t you feel comfortable sharing them? Were you afraid of saying anything ‘wrong’, of any sort of retaliation, or of sounding incompetent? While several factors (introversion, people in the room, …) can contribute to people not to voice their opinions, lack of psychological safety is definitely a common one.

Psychological safety is defined as a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. That means that people should feel comfortable to share their ideas/suggestions/mistakes/concerns with their teams with no fear of being punished. Sometimes reactions apparently as harmless as a giggle or cutting someone off can erode the psychological safety of a team.

Workplaces with low psychological safety can jeopardize the ability of teams to innovate and to learn from each other. New ideas usually come from tiny increments of work through a sequence of several, maybe unintentional events. A comment may trigger a discussion, that raises a problem, that drives ideas, that may lead to a brand-new product. However, that flow will not happen unless people feel safe to speak up and that may lead to missing many learning opportunities. The way an organization handles incidents tells a lot about how much psychological safe is valued in its culture.

Blamelessness

All the services are down and you start receiving tons of notifications. A war room is created and then the ‘fun’ starts. If that gives you goosebumps, you may have had a traumatic experience. If that brings you some memories of collaboration, teamwork, and synergy, you may have experienced an incident where the focus was solely on addressing the problem and on avoiding it to happen again.

Blamelessness is the notion of switching responsibility from people to systems and processes and it fosters psychological safety. That means switches from ‘who’ to ‘what’. Teams should assume that people have done their best with the knowledge and tools that they had at hand. That’s similar to the Prime Directive for Retrospectives and bringing that up in the first incidents and post-mortems can set the scene for a learning instead of a blaming experience.

The Bad Apple Theory (or Old View) maintains that:

  • A complex system would be fine assuming you don’t have unreliable people (Bad Apples)
  • Humans are the dominant contributor to accidents
  • Failures come as unpleasant surprises and are introduced by unreliable people

Instead of thinking that we have bad people in safe systems, we should think that we have well-intentioned people in imperfect systems. That mindset will drive your team to learn from failures and build the foundation for them to focus on problem-solving instead of covering their tracks not to be blamed later.

Another aspect to watch out for to ensure blameless incidents is hindsight bias. If somebody says “I knew that was happening. It was so obvious!”, that should ring a bell. Hindsight bias is the common tendency for people to perceive past events as having been more predictable than they actually were. For example, if a friend says after a game that he knew since the beginning that his team would win it. There was no way to know that for sure, but he/she actually believed that he/she knew. This sort of attitude needs to be purged from any team. A way to handle that without calling out someone in front of many people is to have a 1:1 session and describe why those comments would damage the team’s capacity to handle and learn from an incident.

Fundamental attribution error can also be another call for action if noticed. That’s the tendency to assume that somebody’s action depends more on the type of person he/she is than the environment that influenced that action. For instance, somebody pushes an update that breaks a system and a colleague concludes that that person is not reliable since he didn’t graduate from a renowned university. Again, that represents a type of behavior that deviates from the main focus: understanding the problem, fixing it, and learning from it.

Being able to identify and fix these common counterproductive behaviors is required to build an environment where people know they will not be blamed and that they will be safe to thrive, take some risks, and learn.

Categories
Program Management

4 tips to be more productive

Amidst the current pandemic environment, you can see a flurry of posts and online seminars about productivity. That comes as a legit help for people who may be facing challenges to be or to feel productive while working from home. I’d like to share a few tips that have worked for me while working in the office and that turned out to be applicable also when working from home.

Knock off 1-2 tasks first thing in the morning

I like starting my days selecting 1 or 2 tasks that I can knock off within 30 to 45 minutes. It sets my mind on a path of accomplishments for the whole day. It’s my way to start my day off right. While it can be an easy-to-implement and effective tip, it’s worthwhile to bring up a few points:

  • You need to be conscious not to spend the rest of your days picking up only easy tasks just to cross several items from your to-do list;
  • Reading e-mails or catching up with IM (Teams, Slack, …) should not be one of those tasks;
  • Prioritize tasks that can unblock work for other people who are waiting for you;
  • Allocate time in your calendar so that people don’t try to schedule meetings and to help you to build a habit;
  • For a habit to be built, you need to have a reward after completing those tasks. Choose something meaningful to you (drinking a cup of coffee, checking your Instagram, reading your emails – if that gives you peace of mind, and so).

‘No’ is my default answer for most asks

You’re only as productive as your ability to say ‘No’ to new tasks. By definition, there is no focus if you’re focusing on several things at the same time. Multi-tasking is a fallacy and insisting on that will kill your performance!

You can benefit in a few different ways by saying No for most requests:

  1. People will re-think if they actually need you to do that. ‘Why’ would also do the work;
  2. People may try to convince you once you push back. That will probably lead you to better understand their motivation and will help to confirm if the work is as ‘urgent’ as they may claim;
  3. No gives you more time to think if 1) you should actually do it, 2) you should confirm you won’t do it, or 3) you should delegate it. Delegating tasks appropriately can generate wonderful results for you and your team.

Eat healthy food and work out frequently

Your body needs to be fully functional so that you can perform your duties well. Eating well is known to be related to productivity boost and the World Health Organization has stated that “adequate nutrition can raise your productivity levels by 20 percent on average

For me, reducing my overall carbs intake (mainly at lunch) has helped me to stay productive during the afternoon with no need for extra doses of caffeine. Intermittent fasting a couple of days a week has also made me feel better overall. I’ve learned with nutritionists that if you cook your own food, you have a much better chance to eat healthier by simply doing that. Important: by no means, I’m qualified to suggest which diet approaches you should follow and should seek a nutritionist to find something that works for you.

Working out on a daily basis is my stress-relief valve. When it comes to stress management, it’s important to understand its physiological relation with our sympathetic nervous system (SNS). SNS is our fight-or-flight system and it helps us to get focused when it’s time to execute or when we’re in danger. Switching between the activation of SNS and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is naturally done throughout the day. However, if you don’t have a way to manage your stress, your SNS may be overactivated and that will, for instance, impact your ability to innovate. Being creative to execute your routine tasks can save you several hours in the long run.

Combine eating healthy with regular exercises and you’ll be less likely to miss a day of work. Each day represents 5% of your potential productive time during a month. Get sick and you’ll lose a couple or a few days, which is more time than the performance “gains” you think you’re getting by skipping lunches or by deprioritizing that morning workout.

Sleep time is non-negotiable

The effects of sleep deprivation on our body and the number of people in the United State who suffer from some sort of sleep disorder are mind-blowing. I’ve always strived to sleep around 7 hours a day but reading the “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker made me take sleeping time more seriously.

Sleeping at least 7 or 8 hours every day has become a non-negotiable requirement for me. I had to implement a few challenging changes in my routine though:

  • Stop using my phone or laptop (blue-LED devices in general) at least 30-45 min before my sleep time. That helps the natural release of melatonin hormone, which is needed for us to fall asleep;
  • Replace regular coffee after lunch with decaf or caffeine-free tea. Decaf coffee contains only 5-10% of the amount of caffeine found in a regular one;
  • Change my workout hours to later on the next day if I happen to have late-night calls. I’m a 6AMer usually. As a matter of fact, working out without enough sleep will burn lean mass (muscle) instead of fat and it may make you feel miserable during the day. Finally, exercises should be done at least 2 or 3 hours before your bedtime to not impact your sleep quality.