Many years ago, I learned a training/facilitation protocol we simply call Comfort/Risk/Danger.
When working with a team, the protocol helps them, based loosely around whatever it is they are trying to accomplish and what kind of work it entails, to share what things put them as individuals in the comfort zone, the risk zone, or the danger zone.
For instance, some team members will be totally comfortable with public speaking; for others, it feels dangerous. For some, crunching numbers is comfortable; for others, it would be a risk. Some find conflict dangerous; some find it risky. And, we all know those who are a little too comfortable with it.
But, we need speakers; we need numbers people; we need people who create, manage, and support effective conflict. And, we cannot afford for those skill sets to reside with one person or in one department. It’s too easy for them to get marginalized, or to go away completely. Some element of each has to be part of a broader culture.
So, as the protocol helps demonstrate, building an effective team cannot just be about capitalizing on what everyone is already good at (i.e. what puts them in the comfort zone). Creating a team is about learning how to support a pervasive element of risk.
Humans learn better when there is some level of risk. In the risk zone, we are stretching, challenging ourselves, and actively asking questions and seeking solutions. When we are comfortable, on the other hand, we are surrounded by what we already know. We aren’t actively learning. When we are in danger, we aren’t learning either (social, emotional, and professional danger; not just physical). Fight or flight kicks in. We shut down, seek relief, and avoid (or project our danger onto others).
After starting in education, Zeumo has now pivoted to be a mobile solution for hospital communications. As we line up our new sites and support the teams who are rolling it out, Comfort/Risk/Danger are in play for all involved.
How do we launch a new product in a new market in a way that doesn’t put those of us at Zeumo in danger? How do we support each other’s risk in advancing the product, learning from our early clients, and lining up future sales?
How do we offer a new mobile communication technology for hospitals that doesn’t put physicians, nurses, or hospital administration in danger? How do we best support them as they address their own systemic communication challenges?
How do we help improve communications and communication workflows as risk, not as danger? How do we articulate, and present through our product, sufficient value and ease of use that adoption seems obvious and the learning curve is relatively flat?
The problem of communication in hospitals is clear and has been identified and acknowledged by every leader we have spoken with: too many channels; too much noise; too little strategy. The challenge of implementation, assuming the technology works (which it does), largely rests in the culture of learning in the hospital and facilitated by hospital leadership.
To create such a culture, to be such a leader, and to leverage new technologies – to be a learning organization – is just risky.
“If you don’t feel you fit in, then you’re not going to stay around.”
These were the simple words offered by Tim Shriver at a dropout prevention conference I attended earlier this year. And, while Tim is known for his work with Special Olympics more broadly and specifically with Project UNIFY as it relates to inclusive education, his statement captures something fundamentally human. It applies to teams, schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. It basically applies wherever more than one person is gathered.
So, what does it mean to fit in?
1. You understand the rules and norms and feel a part of them. Every group, community, or even ad hoc gathering of people has rules and norms that guide and inform its function and purpose. Some are stated. Some are not. Almost all are culturally informed and guided by experiences (or lack thereof) of race, class, gender, physical and intellectual ability, and many other variables. Unless you are explicitly part of creating norms (or at least have the opportunity to understand and accept them explicitly), there’s a good chance you won’t feel a part of them.
2. Your strengths are as present as your weaknesses. You can see and articulate both what value you add to a group and what things you know you need to work on. You receive (and learn how to process) feedback from others accordingly. Alternately, you can identify the strengths of others without jealousy and their weaknesses without judgment.
3. You feel accepted for who you are. You don’t have to be like others, but instead your differences are acknowledged, accepted, and celebrated. Our differences are our common connection. NOTE: Acceptance should not be confused with its committed-but-less-invested cousin tolerance.
4. Your opinions matter. Your opinion does not have to be acted upon or even accepted as correct all the time. You just need to know someone listens to you and shows you that they take what you say seriously, whether they agree with it or not.
5. You have the same opportunities as others around you – opportunities that match your interests and abilities. As I have written before, presenting an opportunity doesn’t make it an opportunity. We all need the support, tools, and pathways to claim opportunities for them to feel like real opportunities to us.
6. You can fail successfully. I really don’t want to pontificate here about how failure is required for success. But, you do need to know you can “fail forward” and understand, and know that others understand, that this is what it means to be human.
7. Your effort is respected even if your outcomes are not perfect. In honor of Tim Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver who coined it, I’ll share the motto of Special Olympics: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
8. You can banter. Banter is something often not understood by someone outside of a group. So, the ability to talk nonsense, laugh at old jokes, verbally spar with others in good fun, and just riff on ideas and conversations can prove that the most meaningless content can generate the most meaningful connections.
So, as leaders, whether we want to retain students in our schools, talented employees in our office, or valued members in our communities, we need to start with processes, policies, and practices that help them fit in.
When we look around at the broad array of new technologies for our organizations, we often start by saying: “I need it to do _____.” And, if it does _____ then we sign up for it.
Maybe, it goes something like this: “Oh no! My doctors are texting each other and it’s not HIPAA compliant! We need HIPAA compliant texting!”
And, somewhere down the line, after responding case-by-case, need-by-need, we finally take note of the plethora of silo’d platforms and systems we are still investing in and the graveyard of those dead and gone. We wonder what happened! Each had some promise. Each did something we said we needed done!
But, hopefully, doing things isn’t what our organizations are about. We are more than an accumulation of activities and tactics. Hopefully, we are about getting stuff done. And, to get stuff done, we need strategy.
But, the organizational communication market is stuck between the current limitations of email (and faxes apparently if you are a hospital) and two types of new technology that take their queues from consumer technology more than organizational need:
First: Enterprise Social Networks (“We are like Facebook or Linked In for your company!”)
There are a couple of key problems with the social network model for strategic organizational communications, however. Because the design is modeled on social networks, these platforms quickly get overrun by those who are “social” and drive out those who hoped the tool would simply make it easier to stay informed. As a result, and because of the openness of the platforms, these networks either generate more communication noise in the workplace or are completely ignored by employees who never wanted another social network in their lives in the first place.
Second: Instant Messaging and/or Secure Texting (“The efficiency of texting but most of the messages are from coworkers!”)
These platforms are all about now. How do I get this to you now and know you received it? Clearly, there is value here. But, in our organizations, everything isn’t “now” and if it is treated as such, then nothing ends up “now.” When we talk about building culture, about operations, about company strategy, it’s critical but we don’t need a text message. When we want feedback from a group, who really wants to be bombarded by group text messages? When we have policies to read and sign, we don’t need instant messaging.
People like social media; that doesn’t mean the model is right for our organizational needs. People like instant messaging and texting; that doesn’t mean it can deliver effective communications across groups and across our company.
So, the question isn’t merely, what does it do? The question should really be: can I build a strategy on it?