Archive for the 'Teams' Category

ACT to Mitigate Unconscious Bias

 

Confirmation Bias

2017, like many recent years, has seen events, both political and environmental, produce a flurry of polarising opinions, interpretations and platforms – many of which seem beyond comprehension to one side or another. In the midst of this, both organisations and governments are looking hard at how they can bring people together across these seemingly impassable divides.

To this end, I have spent nearly all of this year working with clients to help them create a more inclusive and effective culture.  While employers may wish their workplace to exist in a perfect bubble, people inevitably bring their biases and prejudices to work.  Unfortunately, sometimes these biases can consciously, and unconsciously, put up barriers to communication and working effectively together – or in the case of AppleWatch, completely miss a desirable feature for a product.

So what can be done? For about 15 years, I have been supporting people to work with their biases and how they may unconsciously stifle innovation and make working together difficult. While unconscious biases cannot be removed, some of their negative effects can be reduced by using some simple techniques. Below is an overview of the approach I have developed after working on and researching this subject for some time – see this article I wrote in 2016.

I hope you find some tips for yourself and leading your teams.

The irony is, you may not notice what your unconscious is thinking – and that is the point, you can’t consciously know your unconscious. The thing is, trying to “think differently” doesn’t help, you must ACT to mitigate unconscious bias!

And when I say ACT I mean:

  • ARTICULATE  an alternative point of view
  • CREATE COMMONALITY – establish common ground and goals
  • TEST IT – ask for more information to test your ideas

And the pneumonic is key: You must take ACTion and actually DO things that reduce your bias, not just think you should be open-minded. Below are some typical situations with simple suggestions of things you can do to get over some suspected biases. They have been shown to help people work more effectively with colleagues and clients, in interviews and in meetings. They are examples which encourage ACTion rather than thought as the main tool to mitigate bias:

1) Articulate Alternative POV:

We often make judgements about people we spend less time with. This show up a lot with new joiners and people in other departments/teams. To apply this approach, begin by asking:

  • What are your assumptions about this person?
  • Where did they come from?
  • What could be an alternative perspective be?

Take this example sometimes levelled at older colleagues:

 Point of View 1: They are so stuck in their ways.

Alternative point of view: They’ve learnt a lot about what works for them.

You can apply this in many other situations where prejudices arise, particularly when there are differences in power. Try looking at the following:

  • What are your beliefs about yourself and your autonomy?
  • What are your beliefs about others, specifically those at different levels to you?
  • What might their beliefs about you be?
  • And do these assumptions help or hinder your performance and contribution?
  • Finish by coming up with an alternative, but plausible view-point that could change your perspective on them or yourself.

In summary, to work with prejudice, first identify your assumptions, then ask, “What might be an Alternative position or approach that might improve your desire to work with them?” Articulate that view to yourself, write it down, perhaps even tell others – even if you are just trying it out.

2) Create commonality

When working with people you find difficult or don’t know, finding out more about them or focusing on common goals can help you move past prejudice to work more effectively together. It sounds obvious, but common sense isn’t always common practice. It’s important to understand yourself what the common purpose of a conversation is and it also helps to make these goals known by those you are working with. For example:

We are here to decide what can save us all time in the long run.

3) Test your assumptions

Finally, we can get caught in assumptions when we are excited about something or have been working on something for a long period of time.  Both of these situations are prone to the influence of unconscious assumptions. So, when working with new clients, products or teams, are you able to help test your ideas to ensure you’re working toward the best possible outcome? Here are some tips:

A) Make your assumptions explicit: write them down, tell other people what they are
B) Enjoy getting it wrong: at least once, try to come at the problem with ignorance, foolishness or just a different perspective
C) Ask for other people’s perceptions
D) Use open questions to find out more

Doing at least two or three of the above will help you identify opportunities that you might miss and make your meetings – and products – more effective!

That’s what it means to ACT on unconscious bias – let me know how you get on?

A final note: Unconscious shortcuts are particularly prevalent under pressure or in complex situations. While the above may seem simple, I would recommend choosing not more than one situation a day to test your biases and try an ACT approach. Otherwise, you will get exhausted and end up being biased anyway.

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The Irony of Teams

High performing teams are given credit for being the element that sets businesses apart.  It is often said that the challenges and complexities of todays world require the effective working of teams.  Ironically, if we look at what is celebrated, collaboration tends to get a left out?   At work, bonuses are divided between exceptionally perfomring individuals, and rarely to teams.  In school, it is an individual’s performance that is accredited and recognised.  In fact, for most of my schooling, outside of drama and sport, team work was not a featured part of the way that we were schooled.

My experience in schools today does not provide me with much evidence that this has changed.  Yet it is that sense of something bigger than oneself that encourages me to put that extra piece in for the team.  And this trait is not one that is encouraged in much of the school environment.

Does your kid’s school have team assessed work?

Does it have collaborative opportunities, whether they be sport, drama or somekind of project work?

If not, I would encourage them to find ways of making meaningful contributions to group projects.  Of course we all learn on the job, but work is still pluaged by an individualistic culture. Of course Rand would argue the benefits of this, and systemically, we are encouraged to celebrate our personal success.  However, it is effective colloboration that gives organisations the edge.

Ironically, accorrding to Katzenbach, it is not teams for teams sake that drives successful collaboration, but goals that require team inputs that forge successful teams.

Reflexive Leadership – Shifting Balances

As a provider of leadership and management training, with endorsements from  Train to Gain, I believe it is important to lay out what I mean by leadership development.  There is a big buzz about “leadership” following Iraq, the financial crisis and even climate change issues.

There are at least two forces challenging notions of leadership that are facing us today.  They include:

  1. The dissatisfaction with current models of political and organisational power that have led us into the calamities listed above.
  2. A matter of definition – one that remains, perhaps necessarily, mercurial and oblique.

The first of these two issues is a matter of some debate and energy, particularly in current think tanks.  Matthew Taylor of the RSA is adamant about challenging the current and outdated models of “leadership by deference.”  One of the challenges here is that to step beyond a culture of deference requires an extra degree of self-responsibility.  This is an interesting challenge and one that can be explored on his blog here.

Elements of Reflexive Leadership

The second one, of definition, is the main purpose of this entry.  It is also one that will be forever changing, so it is with a degree of predicted obsolescence that I attempt to name what I mean by leadership, or specifically, Reflexive Leadership.  It includes the following elements:

  • Awareness
  • Reflection
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge
  • Access to resources
  • Vision, and
  • Accountability

Reflexive leadership is based on the increasing awareness of the value of self-reflection in practice – whether it be as a therapist, student or business person. This practice is commonly seen in Kolb’s learning cycle and occurs when attempting to learn any new skill or conquer arising challenges.  The value of reflection has long been acknowledged, but in time-poor environments, it is often the first thing to go.

However, this can be a costly mistake in the long run.  As pointed out by David Allen, this thinking time. named “knowledge work” is often THE work that needs to be done.  Take yourself – as a skilled practitioner in whatever field you have chosen.  Let us say, something arises that is challenging your performance or objective.  Nine times out of ten it is not your lack of skill or know-how that is the problem, the problem is based on either one of two elements:

  1. It is relational.  Something is affecting you, your colleagues or your clients and is having an impact.  Chances are it is not directly related to the current content of your delivery or objective.  These matters may seem to be unprofessional distractions, but we ignore them at our peril.  Clearing such matters up can unblock many obstacles and put your delivery back on track.  If this is something that cannot be done by you, an acknowledgement of this as a genuine support need can go a long way to increasing your team’s performance.
  2. There is something outside of your awareness that is affecting the issue.  Take for example you are exploring diversity with your team for the day – and have hired a building that looks like a courthouse to do so.  It may happen that some of the people have not had good experience with the law, or may just feel intimidated by the setting.  Without realising why, you notice some of the people involved are closed or even irritated.  As people from minorities often experience oppression directly or indirectly from such institutions, the venue may be having an unitended impact on the day.  This is not to say that one shouldn’t use courthouses or avoid symbols of contention, rather an awareness of them needs to be brought in – and in fact, when done well, can make for transformational discoveries.

Addressing either of these two elements takes reflection and thinking time.  Building time in before and after to reflect on choices can go a long way in supporting solid leadership.

In any situation, it may also just be that the communication loop is not connected and that somewhere something is not coherent.  This may be between:

  • your intention and your message;
  • your message delivery and it’s perception;
  • or perhaps in missed feedback from your recipients.

Again, being a reflexive leader will help identify these shortcomings and address them.

Reflexive Leadership isn’t just confined to reflection and thinking time.  It also demands a more immediate sense of “response-ability.”  That is, good leaders are able to respond to unavoidable and unpredictable challenges.  While this ability can be improved through reflection, it also requires creativity, support and knowledge.  Moreover, it is not essential that these are present in a single person – a designated “Leader” by one title or another.  On the contrary, a good team will have multiple resources of these elements. Good leadership recognises where they are available and utilises them.

Another crucial ingredient of good reflexive leadership is vision.  Having a view for the bigger picture is crucial in knowing which of the resources is worth utilising at any point, given the circumstances.  Awareness of such goals and objectives provides good leadership in any context.

Finally, what really stands out in leadership is accountability.  Not shying away from this element is in fact one of the inspiring elements that draw people to one choice over another.   Developing an organsiation is about getting others to trust it – to invest in it.  Without accountability, leadership is trivial and unsustainable.  It is a lack of accountability that has created the disturbances in our financial system that we are experiencing today.

Leadership as “Role”

Above and beyond these elements of leadership, is recognising its shifting nature and that leadership is a role rather than an individual’s title.  This means that anyone in a team or organisation may exhibit leadership qualities.  For example, a receptionist may have insights gathered from interacting with customers that lead to important organisational change.

Optimum leadership is necessarily fluid and a shared responsibility that is not confined to the designated few, but available to all.  Such a concept may seem challenging to many organisational structures.  However, that is not the intention, organised structures create opportunities for fantastic achievements.  Rather, it seeks to promote a way of thinking that maximises the potential of a group rather than limiting it to the thinking of a few – this can be done while maintaining agreed structures and avenues of communication.  Importantly, recognising the mutable nature of leadership will support us in understanding how best to step into its role.

Using Reflexive leadership will help us find our leaders in the shifting balances of power and information that constantly challenge organisations today. By finding ways to respect both agency and community, groups and individuals, reflexive leadership will help us come to terms with the current challenges of leadership.