Safety and Threats

I like the article in HBR about “ambiguous threats” this month. I wrote about it on the Association Renewal blog in relation to the dangers of “data-driven” cultures. But I wanted to talk about it here in the way it talks about the “human factor,” even in dealing with very technical issues (the main example in the article was the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, and how NASA failed to respond to ambiguous threats, with dire consequences).

In addition to culture, the author identifies “group dynamics” as a key reason why these threats are not addressed. One issue: safety.

A team’s atmosphere is just as important as its design. Many groups lack a climate of psychological safety; thus members do not feel comfortable raising tough discussions of potential threats… By contrast, healthy organizations foster constructive conflict. Good leaders break down barriers to candid communication so that organizations can address competitive threats effectively.

Easier said than done, of course. But it amazes me how few organizations even TRY to break down those barriers and actually foster conflict.