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Small experiments with social capital

Some groups coalesce to form more than the sum of their parts. They go beyond ‘performing’. We concluded in the first article on this topic, that the secret sauce for achieving truly transformational goals lies in the commitment to building and nurturing social capital.

Academically we now know that highly successful groups are underwritten by their efforts in three critical areas: building psychological safety, being vulnerable (so that they can move to being invulnerable), and having purpose. But how do we put this knowledge into practice? Strategy without backing is as useful as no strategy at all. Fortuitously, culture is a non-linear system, meaning that small changes can have a big impact. What if we could identify and experiment with a few small changes?

This post is dedicated to experiments with small actions. Perhaps you’ll share your experiments with us over time.

  1. Build safety

  • Change the format of a meeting (or part of a meeting) into a standing circle. Physical proximity and eye contact are important factors for building safety.
  • Ask one beautiful question a day at work (tips on asking more beautiful questions here).
  • Say ‘thank you’ more each day.
  1. Share vulnerability

  • The next time there is a strong difference of opinion, try responding with “I am interested in what you are saying. Tell me more about why you don’t agree.”

Vulnerability is the willingness to show up when we can’t control the outcome says Brene Brown. Discussing emotional turmoil and a sense of inefficiency is uncomfortable but necessary. Showing fear or uncertainty can be a valuable precursor to deeper insights. Tough conversations help groups to build shared mental models to navigate the future.

  1. Establish purpose

  • Answer these questions about the work your organisation does, then ask 3 people you work with too: “What’s this all for? What are we working toward?”

Purpose is like a story that gets retold between a present moment and a future ideal. Simple beacons repeatedly focus attention and engagement on a shared goal. Humans are very responsive to patterns of signaling, our brains light up in response to story. In the words of Dan Coyle: ‘Stories are not just stories. They are the best invention ever created for delivering mental models that drive behaviour.”

There is likely to be a part three in this series, with the next post exploring new work on methods for building social capital at work.

Click here to read the first post Building social capital.

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