A recent HBR article showed how kindness could serve as a lever to generate productivity improvements. The authors explain that while receiving kindness can enable us do better work, the act of giving compliments is equally powerful at making us feel better. Some suggestions were provided in the article on how leaders can create a kinder work place but will a few tactics be enough to change culture?

Think about a team with a prevailing toxic culture where team members are actively engaged in one-upmanship with one other. Showing kindness to a fellow team member might be seen as a sign of weakness, or even worse, interpreted as a manipulative ploy to gain an advantage.

Isn’t our reluctance to be kind to someone else based on how this kindness might be perceived just another form of fear in the work place? If so, then once again, psychological safety serves as the fan to blow away the fog of fear.

Along with encouraging team members to not be afraid to speak up when they see something wrong, to try something new without fear of social repercussion or to be vulnerable without embarrassment we should also make it safe for team members to be genuinely kind to one another without fear of ridicule or suspicion.

Kindness kicks in at each of the first three stages of Dr. Timothy R. Clark’s 4 Stages of Psychological Safety model.

Inclusion Safety is giving someone else the respect they deserve as a fellow human being and isn’t kindness one of the basic ingredients to showing respect for one another? Learner Safety is granting someone the permission to engage in the learning process and wouldn’t we show kindness by encouraging them as they are learning and by giving them a helping hand when they need it? Contributor Safety grants them the permission to create value within our team and recognizing this value they have created is a form of kindness.

So what can we do to create a kinder team culture?

Many of the same practices which are used for building psychological safety are applicable.

  • Have a conversation with the team about kindness and encourage them to add something related to it in their working agreements such as “We will show kindness to one another without fear”.
  • Model kindness yourself. As the authors state in their article “By giving compliments and praising their employees, leaders are likely to motivate team members to copy their behavior and create norms of kindness in teams.
  • Incorporate kindness into your team’s ceremonies. For example, to start a retrospective with the right mindset, ask team members to acknowledge the kindness of a fellow team member over the past sprint.
  • Encourage both tangible and intangible acts of kindness. Spot awards which team members can give each other are great, but so is saying “Thank you, I appreciate what you are doing!” or “Can I give you hand with that?“.
  • While not the ideal role model for anyone, you could choose to emulate Hannibal Lecter who finds discourtesy “unspeakably ugly” and refuse to tolerate unkind behaviors from the stakeholders you or your team interact with.

Google used to have “Don’t be evil” as their motto. Zappos used the motto “Share Happiness”. Why not adopt “Be kind” for your team?

(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com  and on Amazon.ca  as well as a number of other online book stores)

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