One way to move away from being a nice culture

The last couple of months I have shared a lot about the impact of nice workplace cultures. If we have made the decision that we don’t want to settle there and we want more for our people and workplace then we can start doing something about it. Without waiting for mandates from above. I’ve never subscribed to waiting for others to create great change. I don’t think you need to either.

If we look at Patrick Lencioni’s model (The 5 dysfunctions of a team) for high functioning teams. The second foundation we need to be on the journey is conflict. We need “passionate, unfiltered debate around issues of importance to the team.” Yet there is a step before that to get there. The foundation he says we need is ‘trust’.

Trust is not something that can be manufactured or implied. It needs to exist for us to build to conflict. It’s a complicated thing. Because it involves both our people and the company’s actions to come to the party. Yet there are some things we can start to do to create and/or repair this. And it’s building vulnerability.

When there is an absence of trust we have invulnerability. So what we need to build is openness. And it doesn’t take as much time as you would think.

I am a massive fan of making mistakes. Yep, you read that correctly. In fact, I would go as far as saying that I am an awesome failure. I know I make more mistakes than I do complete things at a 100% level (whatever that made up 100% goal is anyway). So why not make this super simple and admit my failings and make that normal. All the time.

Barack Obama acknowledged many poor policy decisions during his Presidency. Sheryl Sandberg has been open about Facebook’s shortcomings like fake news and election interference. Bill Gates admitted mistakes during the growth of Microsoft. Richard Branson constantly talks about mistakes throughout his career and is open about being dyslexic. Denzel Washington talks about the battle with alcohol and personal failures. These are successful people. Who have flaws and make mistakes and talk about them.

Our one thing is to admit our failings and create the time to learn from them. The next most important piece is to systematise it. To implement a way of capturing this so it becomes as normal as other tasks for the week.

At Can We Talk we experimented with ‘Wobbly Wednesdays’ in 2023. We come for a quick 15-minute huddle to explicitly share any mistakes we made and what we have learned from them. It’s not about getting advice from others. Just sharing.     

As the leader, I need to set the tone. I need to share mine. Like when I get defensive, or make a poor decision (that I see in hindsight), or don’t follow a system we agreed to.

As a team, we are aware and regularly talk about our ‘conflict avatar’. Which is how we respond to tension and conflict. So now we have more empathy for how we react. We can also now see the specific times when it was challenging for each other. It helps us see the other person’s self-awareness and openness. That’s like super glue for relationship building. It makes failing normal. In fact, we celebrate the learnings from it. It goes to our value of ‘Life Long Learners’. We know there is no point in having values unless we create the systems to embed them. This is one of them.

Where could you set up a system to build trust? To admit your failings, and make learning from them normal.

Do you or the people you work with, avoid speaking up and play ‘nice’? Do you want to be better than that? Come along to my free online session Feb 12th ‘The problem with nice cultures’ you can book in here