If you’re determined to build a better culture for your team, think again. Instead, aim to build a better culture with your team. When it comes to exercising empathy for employees, walking the walk starts with five simple steps.

  1. Get greater context

Whilst you may not have the capacity to ‘walk a mile’ in your team’s shoes, make sure you spend significant time right alongside them. Inhabit the actual space and systems with which your teams engage. Why? Because first-hand experience is only accessible from the frontline.

But don’t stop there.

With the consent of your team, use photographs and videos to capture and share their insights with key stakeholders. Leveraging ‘real-life stories’ is the most effective way to compel decision-makers to bring about real change.

  1. Embrace a holistic approach

Too often, we see one individual or one department solely carrying the weight of responsibility for a project or outcome. When it comes to bolstering workplace culture, collaboration is key.

Recently, I was deployed to help a state government housing service redesign its new centre. It was expressed that the new design should retain the perspex screens that formerly separated staff from clients.

Spending time in the centre with various centre staff members and the police enabled me to gain greater context around the real value and purpose of the screens. It became apparent that security measures — not screens — were the challenge that needed to be overcome.

Staff, police, and key stakeholders came together to workshop ideas to ensure the safety of staff. The design, sans screens, was then prototyped and tested live in the centre. The new design included a series of security measures, including personal emergency alert devices and new de-escalation processes. As a result, the entire team not only felt safe in their new work space, but more connected to their clients than ever before.

The lesson? Avoid silos when searching for solutions!

  1. Take a test drive

Create multiple solutions and test them to see if they work. Ask team members ‘how is this really working for you’ and ‘what would be more effective’ or ‘how could this be improved’? Then tweak your ideas accordingly.

Failure to embrace this flexible way of designing may lead to expensive ‘band-aids’ being applied to patch up solutions that were good in theory but not in practice.

  1. Be pragmatic

Always consider your business’s budgetary and/or resourcing constraints. Remember, gathering input from your team members is important. However, it’s equally important to balance those insights with their long-term viability for your business.

For example, imagine your team requests a new customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Sounds good, right? The problem is you may not have the resources required to transition from one system to the next. So what now? Work closely with your team to identify alternative ways to achieve the outcomes they’re seeking. Delve deeper than CRMs to unlock different systems and strategies that could be equally effective — but less costly in terms of time and expenditure.

The bottom line? Always be mindful of finding solutions that will be sustainable for your business in both the short-term and long-term.

  1. Set but don’t forget

No solution should be set in stone. Improving the lives of your team members of course requires thoughtful and ongoing reflection about what’s working and what’s not. Remember, the most effective solutions are those that grow and evolve in-line with the environments in which they function.

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Karina Smith is a Principal at Meld Studios

Meld Studios is a collective of award-winning designers, whose mission is to improve the everyday lives of people as they interact with the world around them. Since 2009, Meld Studios has worked with 150 public and private organisations, on work spanning medical, educational, cultural, transportation, infrastructure, financial services, and government projects.

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