What’s that echo?
There’s a definite change in the air, leaders we’re coming into contact with are beginning to flex their muscles in new and different ways. Conscious of having had to adopt the ‘caretaker’ role over the past months, of having to wrap their arms around their teams way more than usual there’s now a shift. There have been some real positives in that more protective stance but the downside has been one of ending up operating at a lower level. Sure, it has enabled them to be more hands on and at times has actually felt good to have rolled their sleeves up and been shoulder to shoulder with their teams. A sense of; ok bring on the crisis management, let’s get stuff done. But the tide is now turning and we’re hearing more and more the need to step up and step out, time to ‘burst some bubbles’.
The dangers of homogeneity
In having spent the last few months (in our personal and professional lives) looking inward, being encouraged to create ‘safe bubbles’ and practicing compliance whenever possible, it’s perhaps not surprising that as leaders we’ve gotten used to what some refer to as a ‘narrow information diet’. We’ve inadvertently created our own ‘echo chambers’. Echo chambers occur when a leader’s ideas are consistently applauded with limited to no challenge to their decision-making or actions. It can lead to a self-perpetuating cycle in the team of reinforcement and lack of diversity in thinking. It’s a dangerous environment to operate in as a leader. If no one is there to challenge your ideas and direction, you will eventually lead your organisation into one of your blind spots – remember those from that old Johari window? It’s easy to find data that supports what you’re thinking and feeling if you’re not looking for or avoiding anything to the contrary.
According to the Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge series,
“Leaders often get stuck in echo chambers that merely reinforce their own ideas… Meanwhile, lower-level employees are often fully aware of the problems that plague a company or the reasons a particular strategy won’t work, but they tend to remain silent, fearful that speaking up could put their careers at risk.”
Painting by numbers
One of our VPs of a very fast moving goal orientated global business who is hyper aware of wanting and needing to move out of the ’caretaker’ role and avoid echo chambers said;
‘I don’t live in a colouring book and I don’t want my team to either. I want them to occasionally colour outside of the lines and not be limited by them. It’s my responsibility to now shift that. To get all of us lifting ourselves up again to that higher level of leadership.’
While still WFH her intention – resulting from our coaching – is to ‘up’ the team meetings – this might seem paradoxical when trying to shift out of dependency mode but it’s about a more charged focus on moving into a sharing of the realities, responsibilities with a greater expectancy of future orientated thinking and creativity in moving the company forward. This means a different expectation of participation levels, even more HOT (honesty, openness and trust) and challenge which should result in a nicely intentional big swerve away from any echo chamber impact. Ultimately the antidote is to give the team a voice and the space to share. Tapping into diversity – not just in the quantifiable sense i.e. race, gender etc. (as crucial as that is) but also diversity of experience, perspective, thinking styles etc.
As WFH morphs into a new blend of working, transitioning back to offices as well as operating from your own personal spaces, the apparent rooting of culture in the physicality of the work environment that has dominated in the past is becoming increasingly apparent.
The office can still be the HQ for sharing ideas, an exchange hub, an innovation lab. It needs to be energising and relevant for employees and clients alike. More than ever, culture and a sense of belonging is going to be vital, particularly as many will continue to work remotely and offices still have a role to play. But here also is the opportunity for the freed up thinking of independent and vital leadership teams, the chance to rethink those spaces and for remote working practices to be able to equally reflect a vibrant and thriving operating culture.
Excitingly there is a lot of determined chat now around redefining the very purpose of the office space,
‘A space to come together, not in a series of desks to process things at but as a network of connections’. Now is the time ‘to be bold, brave enough to really make agile working mean something’.
Something operating in echo chambers can never achieve.