Is your team using fear-based intelligence?

  • Do you see polite but not constructive conversations?

  • Do any/all team members struggle to step up for new tasks or solution finding?

  • Do you see unequal contribution/airtime across the group?

  • Do you see any behavioural signs of the intention to dismiss or diminish others’ contribution?

  • Do the conversations have an emotional charge that seems inappropriate to the task or conversation at hand?

  • Can you see some team members who are able to contribute more but don’t?

Wet soccer and how to avoid clumpy collaboration

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I was watching my five-year-old play soccer this weekend, in the rain (you may applaud my parental fortitude now).  While standing there shivering with hands in pockets huddled together with other wet parents, several things occurred to me.

The 16 players ran their little hearts out, getting muddy knees and sweaty foreheads as they spent their energy furiously. There was no lack of effort. In fact, they kept going even when the whistle was blown. Yet, their energy spent was not always directional, sometimes (read, a lot of the times) their focus was not the goals. I’m not sure they would have cared if they’d crossed the boundaries into the next playing field and continued onwards into the dog park. The clump of players, with furrowed frowns, tussled up and down the pitch, back and forth battling against each other, even when in the same team. I even wondered (as I watched them through my steamed up glasses) whether being in ‘the clump’ had become a greater goal for the players than the goal goals.

Sports heroes are often used as shining examples of leadership excellence and remarkable team collaboration because the analogies to business are so helpful. And, after watching my son this weekend, I was reminded of not one single one of them. But, I did think how much we have to learn from the analogies that the other end of the spectrum give us.

Remarkable collaboration means:

  1. focusing on the things that lead to achievement and limiting the energy spent elsewhere
  2. remembering the goal even when distracted
  3. having clear boundaries
  4. passing to each other (less clumping) so you cover a more extensive area with less effort
  5. stepping above clump behaviour (the psychology of group behaviour)
  6. making sure all the grownups have coffee

Amy helps individuals, teams and organisations collaborate courageously for remarkable achievements. Sign up so you catch all her posts and see her website for details on programs available or contact Amy's team on COMING SOON!!!! Free webcast on how to maximise collaboration in public service and event in Melbourne - details on website

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The 3 questions you need to know to drive your team achievement


Some groups and cultures work well together, increasing their cognitive diversity and achieving more, quicker. Others are full of increased risk and trapped intelligence. Trapped by fear of being devalued by others, or fear of difficult situations and conversations, or trapped by ineffective communication.

To elevate group capability using The Safe Space methodology we ask the following three questions.

1) Do the individuals in the team understand how to activate their best self and when they get triggered into behaviours that are unhelpful? What can be done to increase the awareness of our own individual triggers, to find a space between an event and our reaction, so we can choose the best response?

2) Do the individuals in the team understand how they trigger others best self? Creating the space for others to contribute their full value is a smart move if you want to acheive more. What can you do to increase your awareness of how your own behaviour impacts what others are able to do?

3)  How committed are we to the team entity, not just our own contribution? Our ego and our beliefs often have to shift from the cultural norm.

A starting point for you to drive your team/culture achievement might be for you to take these three questions to your colleagues and have a conversation about how you are doing.

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The most-risky thing you can do is ...

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...stay the same. Updating your well-worn paths of behaviour is like updating your software. It may be a painful process you want to put off, but by staying agile, nimble and flexible in your thinking and behaviour, you are protecting yourself from becoming obsolete. 

A few weeks ago I was mentoring a very experienced coach, let's call him Frank. He was trying to help a team adapt to new ways of working but struggling to help them move forward. He reported that several of the team members were rigidly holding onto the belief that 'same as usual' was the best approach for their practice. Frank saw that if the rigid team members held on too tight to the status quo, they would put themselves at risk of being rejected as obsolete by those more flexible.

What Frank didn't see so easily, was the inflexibility in his own beliefs, and his strong habits of behaviour. For example, he tightly held the belief that (a) adoption of his preferred approach (Agile practice) was the only way the team would progress and (b) that each of his team colleagues had to be converted to his planned approach before he could start to help them move forward. This led to all sorts of battles of words and wills and a whole heap of frustration. If he wasn't careful, people could start to see him as irrelevant and he would become obsolete.

As Kahneman wrote in his book Think, Fast and Slow, sometimes we are not only 'blind to the obvious' but we are also 'blind to our blindness'.

  • What well-worn paths don’t you even see?
  • Are you agile in your thinking? 
  • What updates are pending for your behaviours?
  • And perhaps more importantly, what checks do you have on yourself so you can spot your rigidity?

We can protect ourselves from becoming obsolete by not holding too tightly to our beliefs about being 'right', and making sure our behaviour stays agile. For me, I intentionally update myself by choosing the sometimes painful option of being with people or tasks that challenge my thinking and my behaviours, I keep trying to stretch my listening powers and of course, I welcome and try (!) very hard to stay open to feedback. I'd love to hear your intentional updates.

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Why am I here?


I often ask myself, ‘Why am I here?’.

This is not (just) an effect of ageing! It is a conscious checking-in process that I hope drives me to activate my best self. 

When we, for example, are obliged to attend a group meeting there is a temptation for us to consciously split our attention between the room we are in, and the other things that seem a better use of our time (to check our emails on our phone or to start making lists of tasks to complete)I know, I know, you're thinking 'I never do that!!!!'. Ok, so for those of us who are human, one of the things that might help us is if we use a question of attention to help our engagement. To interrupt our habitual pattern of divided attention, our habit of distraction, we can ask ourselves with curiosity, 'Why am I here?'. By doing so we actively rather than passively attend our time. 

Attention is a muscle that we need to build. 

In The Safe Space, we work on making sure that we bring our best selves to the table all the time, so we can extract the best from our time and our colleagues. 

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If you want to invest in people, do it in the right place


This week I spent a fabulous morning listening to the fascinating Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, Blink, etc. One of his key messages was that when we want to improve things, we should think wisely in whom to invest.

He showed a video clip of a goal secured by UK Premier League soccer team Tottenham Hotspur which was preceded by 48 consecutive passes. Each player in the team touched the ball. Had one person played a bad shot it wouldn’t have been a goal. He contrasted this to a basketball team where a single player can cross the entire court on their own and be singularly responsible for the majority of points.

I reflected on my clients, how should or could they invest in improvements in their systems that would lead to the most significant result? Should they invest in the strongest players, as in basketball? On the weakest links as might be wise to do in soccer? Or perhaps the focus should be on the passing between the players, the underlying foundation skills of effective communication and collaboration?

Where would your team benefit most?

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Do you suffer from excessive empathy?

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Empathy - Defined by Oxford Dictionary - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

So much is written about the value of people increasing their empathy. But what about those who need to decrease their empathy? What if you have excessive empathy? How do you deal with all that understanding and sharing of others' feelings? What about when those feelings are really strong? Or you understand and share the feelings felt by multiple people? When I meet someone with excessive empathy this is what I see:

  1. Indecision – "How can I make a decision that might impact on another person, or lots of other people? How is it possible to balance the importance of these feelings, of different feelings, or different people with different coping resources?"
  2. Reticence in putting own needs first – “Why would my feelings be more important than others'? Why should my feelings or thoughts be of higher value than other peoples' feelings/thoughts? Or perhaps my feelings will just bring up more feelings for others and therefore I should leave them left unspoken.”
  3. Over screening of own words/actions - Preoccupation with lots of distracting thoughts as the value of their words is assessed. Like a chess player several moves ahead, excessive empathy leads to complicated assessments of the impact of words/actions.

Excessive empathy comes at a cost but one that can be managed.

Keep an eye out for the difference between empathy and excessive empathy. And assess, would you be able to serve yourself and others better if you reduced your excessive empathy?

Feels strange to talk about de-empathising but it is one of the most essential skills you could learn if this post is speaking to you.

Excessive Empathy - Defined by Dr Amy Silver - debilitating emotional connection sometimes to the point of paralysis, always to the detriment of the inflicted, usually to the detriment to those they try to serve

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How To Use Psychological Safety In Cultures That Grow

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Psychological safety precedes innovation, honest communication, agile behaviours, engagement and enables individuals to tap into hidden potential. All good things. Feeling psychological unsafe is in comparison, not a good thing. It results in fear, overthinking, under speaking and group think. All bad things. If we want to create a culture that grows, there is no advantage to people feeling psychologically unsafe.  

But interestingly, when it comes to tasks (rather than a global sense of safety), it's different.

It will often be helpful to growth if people are stretched and challenged in their tasks. By enabling a (supervised) level of task insecurity in a psychologically safe environment, we create the opportunity to learn and innovate. By challenging individuals with tasks, we create the space for a growth spurt in capability, empowerment and achievement, even if it is accompanied by discomfort.

When people are not stretching in tasks, there will be no growth, even in a psychologically safe environment. This is because people get comfortable, and comfortable has an impact on their efforts and their fulfillment.

So ...
growth zone = psychologically safe environment + task stretch
no growth zone = psychologically safe environment + no task stretch.
no growth zone = psychological unsafe environment.

Where are you and your colleagues?


COMPLIMENTARY WEBCAST 19th October - 11.00-11.45am AEST
How you can support the growth of your direct to help them with the hard work of change! (register here)

Order Amy's new book  Conversations Create Growth  or see more about Amy's program Cultures of Growth to find out more about how you can move from once a year performance reviews to ongoing effective conversations.

Dr. Amy Silver is an expert in effective conversations and human connection. She believes passionately that we have a responsibility to trigger growth in ourselves and others.
To get regular tips and tricks to your inbox sign up for Silverlinings below.

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Once a year checks on performance leave too much to chance

My children have an annual check on their teeth. Like every other visit we have had over the past 7 years, the outcome was that their teeth needed to be brushed better. 

Last night they brushed their teeth really well! And we have 11 months till our next official visit. How do I help them build on their performance? How do I help them see the relevance of their efforts? How do I best support them? How do I keep their progress in my own brain as the days, weeks, months continue?

Once a year checks on performance leave too much to chance. Don't you think?



Order Amy's new book  Conversations Create Growth here  or see more about Amy's program Cultures of Performance Growth to find out more about how you can move from once a year performance reviews to ongoing effective conversations.

Dr. Amy Silver is an expert in effective conversations and human connection. She believes passionately that we have a responsibility to trigger growth in ourselves and others. Join Silverlinings to get tips and tools for growth and engagement at work. Click for details of programs and download free offers.

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How to inspire your direct reports to grow

If you want to inspire growth in others, stay focused on them. Here are the four top tips to do so.

  1. Revelation not presumption: Our key task, as a contributor of other peoples' growth, is to reveal their inspiration. Keep asking what sparks their interests to avoid clunky conversations full of  mismatches in inspiration and hidden blocks to behaviour change. 
  2. Don’t judge: Once we reveal their inspiration, the next task is to withhold judgement. Judging will not help you stay curious, by default it will introduce opportunities for clashing conversations.
  3. Build: The third task is to look for ways to build their existing inspiration. Enable them to see that their potential is greater, or that their purpose is bigger. If someone wants to make a real difference, explore what this means for them: How do they feel they are going with that goal? How can you as their manager, or the business support them with it?
  4. Stay curious: The fourth and most crucial step is to enable their inspiration to change and develop as they grow. Remain fluid in your expectations of what inspires them. Don’t get caught out by thinking, ‘but they told me that ‘X’ was what motivated them and now they are saying ‘Y’ motivates them. What is going on?’. Keep stretching to hear and do not assume that the conversation is over because you understand. Keep talking and exploring, and remember you are dealing with a human who is fluid, not an algorithm which is fixed (which is why once annual reviews don't help growth).
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How to help someone who bad talks themselves

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Hearing someone describe themselves with a critical label is never easy, especially if you manage them.

If you want to contribute to their growth, convert a negative self-fulfilling prophecy into an opportunity. Stretch the potential of your direct report by adding a phrase that locates the label in the past.

For example, if someone describes themselves as indecisive, you can re-label that for them by saying ‘so you’ve been indecisive in the past’. This moves the conversation to one of state rather than one of trait.

The beauty of this is that the state conversation gives more scope to solutions.

You can further this growth activation by asking ‘so when are you decisive?’ This stretches the description of themselves away from black and white. It shows them the truth, which is of course that we are all grey.

Growth is determined by the bandwidth in which we play. Labels assigned to people you manage, even the ones they give themselves, will limit your potential to help them grow.
Further (wonderful) related reading : Carol Dweck - Mindset

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How much could you work together?

I draw the diagram above (you may need to display images) to show people why it's so worthwhile to focus on trust. It works when I show it to organisations in relation to their customers; managers and their direct reports; leaders and their employees; colleagues and their stakeholders; anyone with anyone.

If you want to do more together, focus on trust. The green represents the wasted opportunites where we could be doing more to help each other but we just don't trust each other enough to make it happen. We want more of the lovely pink that shows us how much we actually do together. That pink triangle will increase as that trust bubble moves up. So, perhaps worth a quick thought:

  • What is possible if you grow the trust with your customers, direct reports, stakeholders or employees?

  • How much more satisfying for all would it be if that pink triangle took more of the green area?

  • How do the conversations currently being had, increase or decrease trust?

  • What's your plan to increase it? [Here's a tip: don't say 'time' is the plan, there are much quicker ways]

Amy shows organisations how to have effective conversations that activate growth. To find out more about this, please see (free whitepapers to download).

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Review your performance reviews!

In Australia we are drawing to the end of the financial year and we are heavily into performance review season. As with all good implementation strategies, I would encourage a review to make sure you are getting what you want/need from the reviews. Let's review the reviews...! 

How much time do they take? Prompting their move away from annual appraisals, Deloitte reported that it took 1.8 million hours to run the process for their 65,000 employees. While your numbers may not look like that, perhaps it is worth evaluating the hours it takes from your business.

Are they evoking helpful emotions? Does it leave the givers and/or receivers feeling things that are helpful e.g. pride, desire (to achieve), determination, passion? How could you increase opportunities to connect with these things either in the next performance review cycle or in ongoing conversations?

Are they enabling growth? How does the performance review lead to a rise in performance? Is it clear the performance review meeting is a point at which growth is created? In what way do you measure the growth to make sure that the best levers are pulled? 

Do your performance reviews do what they say on the tin? If not, perhaps it is time for a more effective conversation.