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Team Building: SETL’s Creative Safe Spaces

Laura Fink, Head of HR at SETL
2/25/2020

Making sure that everyone is heard in an organisation requires real attention and skilled conscious leadership. Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp famously talks about how his confidence as a leader stems from knowing that he is really good at a few things – and being comfortable that there are things he doesn’t know. He sets a tone that it’s OK to not know everything.

Contrast this with what a toxic environment feels like. The constant low-level fear. Covering your back. Keeping your head down. Never saying what needs saying for fear of reprisal. Watching HBO’s Succession at the moment, it’s visceral and gives me flashbacks to earlier moments in my career that pale by comparison, but still live long in the memory.

Culture Of Fear

Brian Cox plays Logan Roy, the family patriarch and CEO of Waystar, a global media conglomerate. A compelling portrait of an autocratic culture of fear, we see Roy lead with an iron fist; the only people let anywhere near the top table are his children and small team of “trusted” advisors. Allegedly, family is everything for Logan. But even here in the inner sanctum, life is constant uncertainty, plotting and back-stabbing driven by fear of the regular apocalyptic public showdowns. No one says what they really think for fear of the repercussions. You’re in or you’re out. Bad news is swept under the carpet. Toxic culture personified.

It’s compulsive viewing, but it’s not rocket science that people can’t do their best work in that kind of environment. As a leader, it’s a huge unspoken part of the job to create the kind of psychological safety and trust that means people can do their best work. Not only is it critical to innovation, collaboration and performance – but as human beings, we spend more than half our waking hours at work so we want to feel our opinion matters and that we belong.

We’ve all been there. You have a great idea or a different perspective but for some reason you miss your moment, or someone else jumps in and your point gets lost. As an introvert, many times in my career I’ve left a meeting frustrated with myself having failed to articulate and make my point in time. Over the years I’ve found ways to minimise how often it happens – to make sure I’m prepared in advance or find others ways and moments to influence or get my point across. But when an idea flies, people hear what you say and think it will fly – it’s a great feeling to have made a meaningful contribution. When a team values and builds on each other’s ideas – that’s when the magic happens.

Creative Safe Spaces

Jurgen Klopp knows people don’t judge him for admitting he doesn’t know everything – but appreciate his honesty and the opportunity it creates for them to add value and make a contribution. Klopp creates space for the team of experts that he builds around him to grow, knowing that he values their contribution and that their relationships are based on empathy, support and mutual understanding.

Klopp says “everyone has a responsibility for the mood in the room.” Culture can’t and shouldn’t be owned just by leadership. It’s about setting a tone about how we do things around here and hiring people that can build and evolve it. At SETL, we are building first of a kind solutions for market infrastructure using new technology so it is critical that our teams feel able to bring their full skills, experience and viewpoints to what we do. With a variety of technical, business and market backgrounds there are very different lenses on how to do things but we place huge importance on creating an environment where people feel encouraged to contribute, challenge and bring their ideas.

Feedback from the team is that this comes down to two key things: a lack of ego at all levels, which then shows up in a willingness from everyone to share and help each other out. To take time out to explain, coach and help out regardless of who you are, in whatever position or in what team. Those kind of foundations mean people naturally build good relationships across teams and so feel comfortable to speak their mind and share their unique perspective. Yes there can be short-term execution gains when people pull out all the stops to deliver for a tyrant – but long-term, knowing that people know that their opinion matters and that they can bring their full selves to work is priceless.

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