Do you think fear based teams work better?

Leadership Memo 2023-2

Last month, I mentioned that the job of a 21st-century leader is to create and maintain an environment that allows the workers to work at their natural best, where employees feel safe and motivated to contribute to their fullest. But some disagree. They think that fear is a better motivator. I’ve heard some senior leaders say, “it is good for employees to have some fear because fear will propel people to work harder and better. Feeling safe would only breed complacency.”

In a previous company, my boss (an executive vice president) believes that fear is the motivator. He says, “Having fear is good. The global offices should fear that I would shut them down. It motivates them to work hard instead of sitting back to relax. And a little competition between offices is always good. Look at the entrepreneurs. They are all paranoid and look at what they achieve!”

Is that how you think and how you operate as well?

I discussed this topic with my colleague, Stephanie Fleming of Viri Group, who is an expert in Team Psychological Safety. She shared with me that Dr. Amy Edmondson conducted a study where she found hospital employees in the lower-performing teams reported fewer errors than the higher-performing ones. Surprised? Turns out, the employees from lower-performing teams were afraid to report errors. The higher-performing teams had a psychologically safe environment. They wanted to report their errors so that their teams could learn from them.

Stephanie also told me that other studies have found multiple situations where nurses see a potential error by a doctor or have an idea to help a patient, but are afraid to tell the doctor or they second guess themselves, trusting the doctor is right.

Would you want someone from one of those fear-based teams to care for you?

Fear as a motivator may have worked well in the industrial age and the 20th century. It may even bring short-term gains in the 21st century. But it is not a good motivator for today’s workforce where we spend over 50% more time collaborating than we did even 20 years ago.

Stephanie reminds me that motivating by fear only gives the illusion that goals are being met. Over time, fear and intimidation tactics collapse team cohesiveness and increase stress, alienation, and feelings of helplessness. It stifles innovation, creativity, and collaboration needed to respond to this complex and rapidly changing world that we call the 21st century. Quality suffers. According to Google’s study, work cultures with psychological safety outperform fear-based ones, potentially up to 43%!

Managing by fear creates a psychologically damaging environment. It is not sustainable and it’s absolutely not conducive to keeping the best talent.

If you want to learn more about psychological safety beyond the buzzword and the hype, contact Stephanie at Viri Group. Mention this Leadership Memo and she’ll send you a free “Team Health Quick Start Guide for Leaders”.

If you are interested in knowing how to create and maintain an environment that allows workers to work at their natural best so that you can respond and thrive in this complex and rapidly changing world, make an appointment with me for a free consultation.

Latest happenings:

I’m thrilled to welcome Clarke Ching, “the Bottleneck guy”, all the way from New Zealand to SFBABAM (San Francisco Bay Area Business Agility Meetup) in February. He’ll be talking about “The Advanced Guide to the Agile-Toc-Method (ATM) for Beginners: Just Enough Agile + Just Enough ToC = Loads of Calm + Loads of Cash”. (ToC = Theory of Constraints). You don’t want to miss it! RSVP here!

When: 8 February at 5:30pm Pacific Time | 9 February at 9:30am SGT, 12:30pm AEDT, 2:30pm NZDT.

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