Driving to the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary on a foggy winter morning with my hazard lights on was such a different experience compared to driving back, in the bright sunlight. The same road, the same car, the same passengers, and yet both journeys felt so very different. On the onward journey, there was a palpable tension in the air courtesy of the fog. Not being able to see beyond a few feet, wondering if our car was visible to oncoming traffic, and a host of other such worries crowded our minds. A few hours later, when the sun had broken through and we were driving back, the fog had vanished. The conversation flowed, we enjoyed the drive, took a few pictures on the way, and were completely at ease. It did help that we also found a better road to come back on.
The external environment made all the difference. This experience transported me back to a conversation I was having with a senior HR professional, who was sharing how transparency is the best catalyst to culture change in any organisation. Not being able to see things clearly (like when driving in the fog) creates fear and anxiety. It also creates power centres and people hoard information and do not feel like collaborating. There is also the constant worry of getting into an accident because you can’t see what’s coming next. It also creates worry that you may not be seen (your contribution may not be recognised, and allows credit to be stolen for work that was rightfully yours to claim accolades).
In organisations that are shrouded in fog, the conversations between colleagues are often as tense and worry-filled as our onward journey to Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary. This happens when they are travellers in an organisation that does not encourage transparency. People who operate in opaque environments are second guessing themselves, always on the lookout for danger and trying to protect themselves.
Creating an environment that allows free sharing of information, and helps people see each other for what they are and who they are is like the fog lifting. Leaders should be the sunlight that brings warmth and illuminates and inspires the team to enjoy the journey together. Enabling people to leave the fear behind is a big part of creating a high-performance culture. The environment that people operate in has two dimensions. One has to do with having access to all the information that they need when they need it. This is an example of transparency. The other is to have access to the right physical infrastructure like good office space and the right equipment. Much like the highway on the drive back, versus a road full of potholes, pedestrians, and slow-moving vehicles which we had to navigate on our journey to Sultanpur. When the fog lifts and you find yourself on a highway, the drive is joyful.
What can I do to create an environment where my fellow travellers at work feel less anxious? How can I make them feel more at ease and comfortable? There are always simple things that any one of us can do to lift the fog within our span of control. A bit of warmth, a helping hand, a kind word… and just like that your light can touch a person and they experience the journey on the same road just a little bit better.
May we all find our highways and enjoy the sunshine.
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