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Introducing Processes for Continuous Improvement

Impact
Productivity
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

30 September, 2020

Peter Berg, Founder and CTO at Forward, recounts how he introduced processes for continuous improvement and thus creating a more psychologically safe working environment.

Problem

At one of the companies that I was working recently, there were no processes for continuous improvement in place, including one-on-ones, retros, or post-mortems. As a result of that, the company was stagnating and the team was doing the same things over and over again. That also gave rise to interpersonal and overall communication issues and the overall feeling of distrust and unease.
 

Actions taken

The first thing I did was to institute one-on-ones. I would weekly meet with everyone and the purpose was exclusively to gather and deliver feedback. Because the company didn’t have a culture around giving and receiving feedback I had to start out those meetings focusing entirely on myself. At the outset, during one-on-ones, I would share with my report all the things that I felt I could have done better in the past week along with some things I thought I could improve and things I did well. Then I would ask them for feedback on what I shared with them and to present me with their own understanding of what I have done. I did that for a couple of weeks with all my reports with an aim to model vulnerability for them. I wanted to practically show them behavior that we wanted to encourage and see from the individuals on the team.
 

After a couple of weeks, I started asking my reports to do what I was doing. After they would share things they thought they did well or they could have done better, I would share my perspective on that.
 

Once the team felt comfortable giving and delivering feedback and showing their own vulnerability, I introduced retros. I would do the same thing as in one-on-ones, except that the whole team would be participating. The focus was on what the team could have done better, what did the team do well and what were the things that the team could do going forward to improve, etc.
 

Post-mortems naturally followed from there. When things would break, the team would gather and non-judgmentally discuss what happened, how it could have been avoided and what we could do better in the future.
 

Lessons learned

  • The best approach to introduce continuous improvement processes is to model vulnerability. What we as individuals value has a profound effect on the values of those around us and what the team collectively values constitute the team culture.
  • To drive any change long-term, values and culture should support any process, structure, or protocol.
  • General satisfaction with one’s work and the working environment is very closely tied to the feeling of psychological safety. People feel good about their jobs when they are growing and improving and are not happy when they are stagnant and powerless to change their situation.

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