Julie’s Story – A Case Study
Julie was a senior manager attending her first management team meeting in her new workplace. Twenty other managers were in the room, plus the executive members and the chief executive officer (CEO).
What surprised Julie the most was the total lack of discussion and feedback from the management team. A confident individual who had always been valued for her contributions in other organisations, Julie initially viewed the other managers as disengaged, disinterested, and (if she was honest) ineffective.
The CEO was charming and engaging, and the executive often sought the managers’ views during these meetings, but the management team rarely offered any thoughts or opinions.
It was a static workforce, with long-tenured individuals, and Julie thought they perhaps just needed to move on. As an energetic new member, Julie was keen to make a difference. She actively participated in the meetings sharing her thoughts and encouraging others to do so.
At times, Julie was sure she caught knowing looks from some of the long-termers. Smug looks that said, ‘Just wait. You’ll soon find out’.
It didn’t take Julie long to realise something was truly amiss. Well-meaning colleagues gave her a friendly warning that challenging the status quo in that workplace was akin to career suicide. And a long line of people had gone before her.
Julie shook off the negativity, confident in her ability to influence. Her skills were recognised, and she started to climb the corporate ladder. But that climb came to an abrupt halt when she spoke up to the executive about areas that required remediation if the organisation was to achieve its strategic objectives and re-engage the management group.
In hindsight, Julie told me the signs were obvious at that first meeting, but, as a natural optimist, she chose to ignore them. ‘The reason there was utter silence in those meetings is that it was not safe to speak up. It was a fear-based culture where the only thing you were expected to say was ‘Sounds great’, ‘I agree’, and ‘Yes, of course, you are awesome.’
She recalled that most of the executives did not want to discuss, collaborate, or be challenged on anything. It was a command/control environment.
The meetings were more about lip service and the appearance of collaboration than genuine efforts to innovate and work together with experienced and senior workforce members. Julie felt it was such a missed opportunity for that workplace.
Sound familiar? Julie’s case is not unique. I regularly see and hear of similar environments. The ability to contribute to discussions or challenge ideas or how things have always been done is absent from teams and workplaces that are psychologically unsafe.
“Psychologically safe workplaces value diverse thinking and invite contributions from all people.”
Psychologically safe workplaces value diverse thinking and invite contributions from all people. Unafraid to hear bad news, they are inclusive places to learn, where it is safe to contribute, offer your thoughts, solutions, and ideas and challenge the status quo.
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