Generating Safety

Most of the time, most of the people don’t put a lot of thought into their behavior. They run an “auto-pilot” program that governs how they respond. If we examine the elements that generate behavior, we get something like this list:

  • Physical sensations – information coming into us from “the real world”.
  • Beliefs and Values – concepts and things important to us
  • Feelings – both physical and self-esteem
  • Data/facts – information I “know”
  • Thoughts – What we do with the data/facts
  • Intuition – Hunches based on experience without supporting data (at this time)
  • Concerns/Fears
  • Desires/Requests – What I want to have happen

If we stopped and consciously processed each step all the time, civilization would screech to a halt. How can we create a safe environment and still create value for our clients?

Beliefs and Values – The Invisible Elephant

We don’t walk around the office starting conversations with “Well, I believe that …” or “Given my values …”, yet our beliefs and values form the seed for our behavior.

We get some of our values and beliefs from our environment. The culture and family we’re part of greatly influence us. Strong hierarchical relationships make sense in some cultures but seem stifling and ill-informed in cultures that value independence. Another source involves our experience. Behavior that resulted in positive outcomes get reinforced and converted into beliefs about how we should behave. Having been part of a lot a decisions I have a belief that including everyones ideas about the decision helps create a better decision.

With a list of values and beliefs we can know what is important to our team, but this list doesn’t tell us how to behave.

Team Norms – The Team’s Guard Rails

Moving one step closer to safety brings us to team norms. Team norms tell us what behavior we expect from the group. Team norms for getting everyone’s ideas might include:

  • Respect each others views.
  • Let everyone have a say.
  • Don’t interrupt while someone is talking.

With this list team members can compare behavior with how the team expects its members to behave.

I’ve seen these lists referred to working agreements, norms, ground rules. As guard rails they serve to keep behavior in some range and allow team members to point out when a member is not staying within the range of acceptable behavior.

Simple rules – Generating Patterns of Behavior

Like team norms, we create simple rules based on the team’s beliefs and values. Simple rules provide guidance for decisions and action when situations are less than predictable. Simple rules can generalize to fit most situations eliminating the need for an exhaustive list of acceptable / unacceptable behavior.
A simple rule for the getting everyones ideas might be:

  • Seek first to understand, then be understood.

Some guidelines for simple rules include:

  • Keep rules to “minimum specifications”.
  • Rules should be both generalizable and scalable.
  • Each rule should begin with an action verb and be stated in the positive.
  • The list should be short, seven to nine as a maximum. The list should include at least one rule for these general areas:
    • who we are as a group
    • how the team will deal with differences
    • how the team will exchange ideas and information both within the team and with the organization.

Creating simple rules allows team members to act accordingly and know the team will support them.

What techniques/models do you use for creating team behavior? Leave a comment …

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