The Courage Not To Have TMs And Acronyms For Organizational Common Sense

We live in times where it feels utterly necessary to be proprietary about ideas and protect them best we can. It’s a symptom of our unwillingness to collaborate and a by-product of the lack of trust and interest in building something collectively.

In most places that’s unimportant, but I find in topics like ours having to do with humans at work and the best ways for them to interact to really be a team, that’s especially harmful. I.e. any discussion around the future of work and topics such as soft skills, empathy and purpose is seen as a weak and “fluffy” topic for now by the business anyhow, so the last thing we need is the murky unclarity of everyone and their dog creating their own framework around key concepts. 

As I keep saying, my main personal ambition is to connect tangible Agile (and other new ways of work) KPIs to the existence of Psychological Safety, effectively showing how much more productive people can be when they truly work in a team and thrive in a family-like environment. 

This is a number that’s been hinted to by studies, but that doesn’t exist in a recognisable way. Google in their project Aristotle stopped short of showing that Psychologically Safe teams are X% more productive than those who don’t display the characteristic, chiefly because they could measure its presence but not its comparative evolution or degree of existence. We can analyse the latter with our solution at Psychological Safety Works and we’re working with a few very smart organisations, so chances are one of them will be the one who can link their name to this massive accomplishment: a number to show the business the value of having people work in real, collaborative, fearless businesses. 

Sometime in the future it will be “Academics and scholars, chief amongst which Dr Amy Edmondson discovered and defined Psychological Safety; Google brought its importance to the attention of the business world with its massive Project Aristotle study; reports such as the DORA one of 2019 placed it at the base of any DevOps success; and then PeopleNotTech and Company XYZ were able to show that teams that had it were X% more productive and Y% more able to be effective in Agile than teams who did not, hence why every company today focuses on the wellbeing of their employees to see better business results”. Because once we get that magical number no board can turn their nose that “people topics” are a “nice to have”.

What makes this mission more complicated is how everyone feels the need to be proprietary and create a framework. 

If we take a step back and are willing to massively generalise for the sake of a forced helicopter view, we’ll agree that the proportion of people who “get it” from the totality of those in the workforce is minuscule. Even if said “workforce” is reduced to white-collar, knowledge workers who employ technology, those of us who get the importance of terms such as “DevOps” and “Agile” and “Psychological Safety” and even “Future of Work” are extremely few and far between. 

We are but a handful of people who understand the world has changed and that VUCA is all upon us and nothing is as it was 30 years ago, neither as it will be in 30 years, and to prepare ourselves and our business for the immediate AI-driven technology-powered fast-consumer-expectation-delivering future, we have to take a serious look at the humanity and wellbeing of our employees. 

It is this handful who then spends time evangelising this fundamental truth to the business. A reluctant, resistant to change, deaf business stuck in the denial of hoping none of this hard homework regarding their employees will be necessary. 

If what we do is “get it” but then immediately translate it into some synonym that gives us more chance to charge for something apparently only we know, then it’s little wonder we muddy the already murky waters. 

Small boutique shops everywhere construct complicated employee wellbeing diagrams and methods, consultants and coaches devise new names and slap TMs at the end of each to signal they alone hold the key to the future of work, and writers and thinkers debate each other over whose preferred terminology is better, with no regard for how that hurts the overall discourse and how that gives the business yet another reason to be lazy and ignore the entire conversation around teams. I won’t name names here (send me a message and I’ll give you some coffee-spouting examples) but over the past few months alone, if I had a tenner for every “framework” and new term I’ve seen, I wouldn’t work another day. 

Consider how each big 4 are having a framework, often using the fanciest, least expected word they could find and often overcomplicating to high heaves over the “organisation of the future” and ask yourself how come it often doesn’t even contain common sense terms such as “team”, “courage”, “resilience”, “flexibility”, “vulnerability”, “feedback”, “conflict”, “helpful/servant leadership”, “empathy”, “performance”, “effectiveness”, “purpose”, “passion” etc but some convoluted synonyms of the same and some over-engineered way to combine them. 

These are immensely intelligent people, they all know it all boils down to very basic, very fundamental and perfectly well defined, already-existent terms where no one else but an Edmondson, a Google or a Lencioni need to worry about TMs as they said, thought and analysed every single word of what makes successful organisations tick. They often are well aware that creating new ones will only serve as an excuse for most organisations to scratch their heads for even longer while shopping around for “best practices” in lieu of executing on the deep change of mentality needed to get their house in order people wise. Despite that, they do it anyway because that is their engagement model. They can only sell knowledge that looks proprietary, they believe. They fear stepping into the realm of the “DUH” and of the simple and necessary, as they cannot imagine gaining any profit from empowering businesses everywhere to gather common sense and do the right thing. 

I’d like to plead with them for the sake of the future of work everywhere, to stop doing that and to listen to Brene Brown’s Ted talk on courage on repeat to find the bravery to dare to do so. Ironically, she represents an example of how keeping it basal and basic is doable and can be successful because she gets intensely heard and understood by smart leaders everywhere without having overcomplicated it or felt the need to claim her point is about “stout-heartedness” only to be able to apply a TM to it. 

This isn’t about the big consultancies exclusively, but all of us. 

In this day and age, where it’s imperative to have deep and meaningful fast change and we are part of the few who realise the key to that is changing the way we think of employees and teams, I need us all to stop inventing terms, to always double-check if what we say does not relate to a much more evident and fundamental concept, if there is no way to explain our point in a simpler, more relatable manner and if we can’t keep it and make it more human because if there is, any TM-able synonym and power-point-worthy acronym is a crime against ever arriving closer to making everyone’s life at work better and our organisations future-proof.

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