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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in culture

An article out this week by Bianca Healy discusses toxic workplaces with as many as 9 out of 10 people indicating that they have had experience with either ‘toxic’ individuals or cultures. Certainly when conducting organisational investigations it is a term commonly used by all the stakeholders and it generates a great deal of emotion and strong opinions of what is and what isn’t ‘toxic’ behaviour.

Healey says, based on the research conducted by those surveyed that ”everything rises and falls on leadership.” Certainly leaders can ”set a tone” either through their own behaviours where they reinforce aggressive and manipulative conduct.

Or leaders can perpetuate toxic cultures by ignoring behaviours and failing to hold to account those team members who undermine workplace harmony and respectful attitudes. This unfortunately validates individual negative behaviours and leads to an entrenched culture which can be very damaging but also resistant to later efforts to improve workplace conduct and attitudes.

A real test of leadership is where you inherit a toxic workplace. Why can some leaders turn this around? I would love to hear your experiences of how this was done. What worked? What didn’t?

Click below for the Healey article:
HRM Debate: What are the best ways to fight toxic workplace culture?

ACIM Solutions offers a range of programs and services to manage and investigative ‘toxic’ workplace cultures.  Please get in touch if you would like more information on investigating workplace bullying or short courses to upskill staff on emotional intelligence, resilience and leadership.

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As I’ve travelled around Australia this year, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked by   middle and senior managers (with varying degrees of desperation) is: ‘How can we build more resilient teams?’

It’s a good question and in response here is the first of a 2-part blog specifically focusing on how to build and maintain resilient teams. 

This year I have worked with organisations that have undergone significant organisational change processes, economic downturns, leadership changes, major IT implementations and even rapid expansion. 

Each factor has had a significant impact on the workplace and has put teams under pressure.

Undoubtedly, teams with low resilience can cost organisations many thousands of dollars in lost revenue through missed opportunities, more frequent and serious errors, increased sick leave and greater staff turnover.  

Sometimes poor team resilience causes internal divisions and personal resentments that go on for weeks, months or even years. Not surprisingly, the quality, creativity and timeliness of the team’s output suffers and the negative cycle continues in a downward spiral.

So what can you do to create or strengthen team resilience?

Here’s some practical ideas that can help:

LEAD

1. Start with your own resilience.  

Be self-aware of your own level of resilience. Understand your triggers and proactively monitor how well your own strategies are working. Identify and develop positive habits that will support you during challenging periods.

2. Role-model the positive behaviours you want to see in others.  

You set the standard of behaviour for your team, so demonstrate your ability to keep your own emotional responses to challenges under control at work. Use positive communication and demonstrate problem solving techniques that are optimistic and constructive. Role model flexibility and agility in decision making and show pride and accountability in your work. Don’t just talk about it. Do it. Show you team that you don’t just bounce back – you bounce forward!

3. Encourage flexibility and autonomy wherever possibleso your team members feel moreempowered.  

Times of change can make people feel like they have lost control over their future,so devolve decision-making wherever you can*. Show your team that you trust them, have faith in their abilities and want them to be resourceful so they can grow and succeed. Encourage team and individual problem-solving to enhance their self-confidence, accountability and job satisfaction.

4. Recognise and reward people who experiment and show initiative.  

If a team member tries something new and fails, be supportive. Ask them what they learned from the experience and what they’d do differently next time. Don’t underestimate the power of these opportunities to build trust.

COMMUNICATE

5. Help your team members adapt to change, by actively listening.

Engage in honest and open discussion with team members, individually and as a group. Invest time really listening to your team during tough times. Focus on your verbal and non verbal communication.

6. Use positive language and humour (where appropriate) to build team cohesion. Discourage negative language, snap judgements and black-and-whitethinking patterns.  

Challenge undermining behaviours such as defensiveness, gossip, eye-rolling or finger-pointing.  Develop the confidence to have those difficult conversations with team members who undermine individual or team resilience.  Ignoring or turning a blind eye to destructive communication habits is very dangerous!  

7. Meet with your team often.  

Be visible and present! Team members need and want to hear from their leader when they are facing uncertainty or adversity. Clarify roles, priorities and goals of the team. In times of significant organisational change or upheaval, calmly share whatever new and relevant information you can, as soon as you can. Ditch the management-speak. There’s no need to  ‘drill down’, ‘climb the strategic staircase’ or ‘cascade relevant information’ – just talk in plain English.  

8. Deal with issues as they arise.

Resilient teams work collaboratively and are characterised by mutual trust and support. They are not afraid to admit weaknesses and mistakes and ask for help when they need it. Encourage team members to talk through any current or emerging issues before they start to catastrophise and snowball matters to impossible levels.

9. Acknowledge even the small achievements of team members and look for opportunities to acknowledge progress. 

Remember to say ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’. Everyone needs to feel valued and that their work has meaning and purpose, no matter how junior their role or seemingly mundane their task. Remind all team members, individually and together, how their work helps the organisation, community and/or customers.

* Research undertaken by Blessing and White and published in A Study of Voluntary Effort in the Work Force (1996) found that old-fashioned ‘command and control’ work environments don’t encourage people to think for themselves and create ‘learned helplessness’ in staff.  Ten years later, another study of 320 small businesses conducted by researchers at Cornell University found that businesses that gave their staff autonomy grew four times faster than those that didn’t. Source: http://www.workingatmcmaster.ca/med/document/facilitating-resilience-in-the-workplace-1-37.pdf

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Posted by on in Workplace training

As professional mediators, the PSW HR Solutions team are often asked by clients for advice about how to handle difficult conversations in the workplace.  

It is a predictable part of working life that we will need to have difficult conversations with clients, staff and stakeholders at some point. Many managers rely on their position to ‘manage’ people rather than developing the skills to lead through engagement and the ability to influence. 

Proactively managing difficult conversations can be a litmus test for many people in the workplace.  Unfortunately, many people find the process intimidating and go to great lengths to avoid a personal conversation.  Alternatively, a clumsy response can inflame the potential conflict which makes the situation even more uncomfortable for everyone!

When handled well, difficult conversations can be a good thing.  

They create opportunities for people to find common ground, confirm expectations around behaviour and performance and create improved understanding. Open and personal communication allows ongoing organisational problems/ festering issues that often affect others in the workplace to be positively managed. Confident management of challenging conversations can be the catalyst for new or improved workplace practices and processes being implemented. They may even create the space for new perspectives to be considered and/or result in a change in management direction or thinking.

So how do you get from the ‘Houston, we have a problem’ stage to sustainable positive outcomes? 

A great place to start is with your preparation and planning skills. Here are our top tips to improve your confidence in managing even the hardest workplace conversations:

1.  Prepare before the discussion. Consider time, date and place. Your goal is to progress the situation positively, not make it worse. Reflect on what the key points of the discussion need to be so you can stay focused and don’t get side-tracked or forget important things you need to mention.  The location can be critical in platforming positive outcomes – where is the best location to raise contentious issues?

2.  Do your research to ensure the information you intend to provide is accurate. Distinguish between opinions, hearsay and facts. Don’t make assumptions about the other person’s motives or intentions – and don’t assume that they will be able to see things from your point of view.

3.  Be clear in your own mind about what you want to achieve from the conversation.  Are you just trying to raise the other person’s awareness of a difficult issue or aiming for a change in work performance, personal attitude or behaviour?  Try to summarise your goal/s in two or three short sentences. What outcome from the discussion would you consider to be a satisfactory result? Can it be measured. If so, how?

4.  What will your opening statement be? This could set the tone for the entire conversation so think about it carefully. Mentally rehearse what you want to say in your mind. Picture yourself calmly outlining what the issues and impacts are for the individual concerned, the team, and the workplace as a whole. Can you think of a way to start and finish on a positive and supporting note? 

5.  How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of the information that you will provide? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would you feel fear, embarrassment, anger or shame?  Anticipate and prepare for the person to ‘vent’ or become emotional.  Anticipate the range of reactions and plan for those responses.

5.  Focus on your communication skills – verbal, non verbal and active listening skills. Keep the language around the discussion as objective and unemotional as possible. Your capacity to communicate assertively and confidently will be a key factor in your ability to manage difficult conversations positively. 

6.  Consider what your role may have been in the situation. Don’t just rely on your own judgement.  Ask a trusted colleague for their perspective. You may not be fully aware how your own actions or words have influenced the behaviour, attitude or decisions of others.  If, on reflection, you feel you may be at fault in some way, be prepared to be honest and open about your part in the matter.

7.  Show respect for the other person. Don’t ambush them with an unexpected meeting or tip-toe around the subject in fear of an imminent explosion. Be courageous and clearly articulate the reason for needing to have the conversation, i.e. be specific about the issue/s you want to talk about.  Book an agreed date and time to have the discussion. Most people appreciate a direct approach and authenticity far more than side-steps and false camaraderie.

8.  Be prepared to allow the other person to help come up with a solution or next steps forward.  This will show that you are listening, being open and flexible.  It may also mean the other party is more likely to respect and abide by whatever actions are agreed upon as a result of the discussion.

If you would like to speak to the PSW HR Solutions team about working with your management and leadership teams on how to handle the difficult conversations, please get in touch.

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Posted by on in Stakeholder Management

PSW HR Solutions have been working with several clients recently who are seeking to enhance the resilience of their teams. 

Significant and sustained organisational changes, negative media attention for an organisation and leadership changes have resulted in the resilience of team members being tested. 

People are worn down by the moving goal posts, ever challenging targets and uncertainty about their role and even their long-term future in tough economic environments. 

Workgroups with low resilience are often evidenced by the following HR challenges;

  • conflict in the workplace
  • low morale
  • staff turnover and absenteeism
  • low innovation and productivity

The good news is that people can always improve their capacity for resilience at any time in their life! 

Further, successfully leading your teams through challenging periods is actually an opportunity to build a culture of resilience and can strengthen the team – if it is managed well.

So how can we get our teams to move from the victim/blaming reaction to the learning/coping reaction?

Here are some strategies to help you create a resilient work culture

Evaluate Workload

Across public sector and private sector people are being asked to do more with less and it is critical to clearly discuss and clarify organisational expectations and priorities. You also need to ensure you carefully and objectively assess a healthy level of pressure versus unmanageable work demands. 

Many people thrive in challenging work environments but where this balance is out people quickly feel anxious and defeated. The key is open communication with your teams regularly about their workload.  Leverage the opportunities offered through the structured performance discussions processes.

Empower your people

Where people feel they have little control to influence decisions or events, particularly where they affect us directly, we become very stressed. We often do not know all the facts and that adds to the pressure. 

Where reasonable involve your teams in decision making at all levels, consult wherever possible to solve problems and offer a variety of ways for teams to provide feedback. 

Keeping people informed about decisions and providing opportunities to contribute builds engagement and creates a resilient culture.

Resource your teams

People managers have an important role in ensuring teams have adequate resources, training and technology to do the work required. It is vital to make a conscious effort to fix niggling problems quickly as they amplify our frustration in pressured environments.  Save the stress for the big-ticket items, not annoying technical or process problems!

Prioritise expenditure on creating improvements that enable people to meet their goals as easily as possible.  Focus on continually developing skills in your team and consider ways they can grow their capability with incremental challenges. Growth builds confidence which underpins resilience.

Create positive work relationships

People’s relationships with their colleagues and their managers can often define how they feel about work. Lack of support, aggressive and/or disengaged management styles will quickly demoralise the team.

To counteract this, build in routine  practices that actively create positive relationships within the team as part, for example open communication processes.  Communicate appropriate workplace conduct and ensure the standards around positive behaviours are maintained. You should also monitor your own leadership style when under pressure and reflect on whether you need to adapt your style to meet the current circumstances.

Create positive strategies to support change

Change is an inevitable part of our lives yet it is constantly recorded as one of the major triggers for stress. It is helpful for your teams if you acknowledge how stressful and challenging it can be. You can then build engagement in the process by celebrating even small wins along the way where you can. 

In addition, regular updates on progress are critical to keep teams energised. You can also role model positivity about the changes and consciously use positive language. This serves to encourage people to shift their thinking from focusing on what is lacking or going wrong towards what is working well and how they can build on it to create new opportunities.

For more information on options to develop a resilience culture in your organisation, please get in touch.

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