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New Blog Series: Developing a culture of ‘Teaming’

1. 'Teaming' on a Shoestring

Practical lessons from work
to develop a psychologically safe, team-based learning culture,
with no allocated budget, no time to spare and the next must-do hurtling towards us…..

Amy Edmondson’s multi-faceted and research-based idea of ‘Teaming’ is most succinctly summed up in her small pocketbook as: Aim High, Team Up, Fail Well, Learn Fast. Given Amy’s more recent work on The Fearless Organization, work to help us all Feel Safe is also central in creating psychologically safe, collectively-led learning organisations.

This is powerful, compelling work. I also think it can be intimidatingly tricky to put into practice. Not because it is complicated or inaccessible – I believe it to be neither – but because to do it ‘properly’ would take more time, attention and money than any organisation I have ever worked with has or will ever have. Yet surely there is progress we can make, now the research is becoming so well-known. What can we learn together about putting it into practice?

Many of my clients are part of the UK National Health Service (NHS) - a public, tax-funded system of healthcare which is stretched to its limit and panting for breath while continuing to be a backbone of British society and achieve amazing things despite looking increasingly fragile.

In such a context, I am confident that a culture of Aim High, Feel Safe, Team Up, Fail Well and Learn Fast could make a hugely positive difference for the health and effectiveness of NHS services, for its people and those they serve. I have formed this belief from having listened to, coached, developed and supported tens of thousands of NHS staff, individually and in teams, over many years (and from my doctoral research).

The snappy simplicity of the 5 quick phrases - Aim High, Feel Safe, Team Up, Fail Well, Learn Fast - is a real strength, yet it belies the deep, complex, cultural work which is needed to translate them from words on a page into the lived experience of colleagues in their everyday interactions.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to sit back and wonder:

“A culture like that - wouldn’t it be great ….. but we live in the real world! Some of our organisational leaders don’t seem to know about this stuff, we are rushed off our feet as it is, and anyway we don’t have any money. Where on earth do we start??……”

For OD practitioners working in everyday contexts beyond the reach of Harvard (or any other) R&D budgets, it can sometimes feel overwhelming to know how to even begin to bring the potential benefits of such an approach into our client organisations.

In this series of blog posts, I’d like to share my story of feeling the way on this with one organisational client, and what we learnt and are still learning. In some ways, in my work with this client, we ourselves enacted ‘teaming’: we aimed high, we helped each other feel safe, we teamed up, we failed well (I hope!) and we learned fast. We made definite progress, and as always, much more is still needed.

For me, the first step was to banish the paralysing worries about our approach not being ‘pure, perfect and proven’. Instead, we drew energy and inspiration from Arthur Ashe: “Let’s start where we are; use what we have and do what we can”.

I hope my next blog post in this series might help anyone wondering : “Where do we practically start with creating a culture where we can Aim High, Feel Safe, Team Up, Fail Well, Learn Fast?”

Image by Joan Greenman

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