A look back at how our clients have overcome their operational challenges and policy conundrums in 2023, by creating the conditions for embracing alternative opinion and challenging convention, to build greater business success.

Happy New Year! Here at Fearless Facilitator we thrive on helping clients understand and overcome some of their most ‘knotty’ issues, using authentically collaborative methods that recalibrate relationships to create sustainable and healthy high performance. As we look forward to doing much more of the same in 2024, we wanted to share some reflections on our experiences and learnings from 2023, to help others who are looking to hit the ground running in January.

So what is our key take away this year, for business and people leaders working in complex and VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environments and situations? For sustainable, healthy high performance to happen, goodwill and good intentions will not be enough. It is of course great to have these positive emotions in play (and their presence will certainly make a challenging journey more frictionless), but they tend to be passive and – like any emotion – lack a specific focus. The VUCA environments and situations we help clients navigate often generate a challenging relational ecosystem of their own, in which high pressure stressors already undermine the complex interplay between individual and team dynamics at work.

Surviving and thriving here requires a conscious and collaborative understanding of what makes each of us tick, plus a deliberate and meaningful re-calibration of our relationships (and the risks we feel safe taking within them) in pursuit of sustainably healthier lives and business performance and results.

Relational risk and its impact on team culture and performance

So what makes us tick? In its broadest sense, risk refers to the potential for loss, harm or undesirable outcomes from a particular set of events or actions. The way we feel and act around our levels of personal risk at work are deeply connected to primitive biological instincts that trigger a ‘reward or threat’ response (also known as an ‘approach or avoid’ response).

We are fundamentally driven to seek out environments and situations that feel safe and secure, whilst moving away from and avoiding situations that constitute a threat to our survival. In a world in which our physical survival is mostly no longer a threat, and alongside our species’ evolutionary need to cooperate in order to survive, our brains have a deep urge to connect and are hardwired to respond instinctively to the threats and rewards we encounter and perceive in our social experiences (sic our relationships).

As a result of studies on the impact of neuroscience on leadership and influencing and collaborating with others, a helpful framework now explains how poorly considered workplace interactions serve to undermine our individual sense of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness – the 5 core social domains of the SCARF model. When one or more of these domains feels under assault it can trigger a cascade of threat-driven avoidance responses, that build resistance, stymie trust and diminish our appetite for relational (interpersonal) risk – particularly in work settings that are already high pressure and complex (VUCA).

Prioritising the development of a positive team culture means creating working relationships and networks that are more cohesive, more trusting, more motivated and more resilient (and adaptable) to the demands of the modern corporate world.

The economic cost of a poor team culture has been estimated in the tens of billions of pounds in a developed economy like the UK, due to a variety of factors that impact on lost productivity – including staff absence and presenteeism and a lack of innovation in environments where teams may not work well together or feel able to express themselves fully and freely.

So the quality of our relationships and the relational intelligence we are able to access and apply matter to us all. And they especially matter for me as a female founder and senior executive, when one of our knottiest issues as women is to be taken seriously, for example when asserting that better relationships are a key determinant of healthy and sustainable high performance. And that as such, they form an essential part of a strategic approach to health and wellbeing that is laser-focussed on the business bottom line.

How we deliver greater relational intelligence

At Fearless Facilitator, our trade-marked method starts by helping clients fully clarify the unique context in which their business and relational challenges occur, through a deliberate process of positive, strength-based appreciative inquiry and self-examination.

Through our focus on relational intelligence, we emphasise the strengths that can be found through human connection, commonality, humility and humour, to create a safe space in which experiences and perspectives can be shared without judgment, including around healthy risk-taking and positive failure; and a space where debate and differences are embraced in a way that encourages dialogue, not dissent.

Tick boxes and talking shops have no place because our practical, action-oriented outputs encourage real world experimentation, which fosters greater accountability for and sustainability of new habits that lead to lasting, positive culture and behaviour changes.

Clients we have worked with in 2023

Working with Dow, a multibillion-dollar global material sciences company, with almost 40,000 employees across a diverse range of roles, from the factory floor and research laboratories, to customer and corporate administration, our method showed the top global leadership team how a consistent tone of curiosity, humility and empathy better allows a diverse group of direct reports to speak up and be heard, to build more trusting relationships around identifying and solving major business challenges.

For the Civil Service Occupational Psychology Profession, we provided continuous professional development (CPD) support for over 250 members across their development network, providing insights they described as “thought provoking” into concepts of willingness to help, alignment of risk, talking about tough issues and inclusion of voice and how they can incorporate that into the practical support they provide for over 400,000 civil servants across the UK Government.

This wonderful testimonial from The Alzheimer’s Society, who we helped build an improving team performance dialogue around their new operating model, demonstrates how they immediately (and in a very creative and action-oriented way) applied learning from our discussions around the team performance benefits of humility, curiosity and empathy at their annual impact review meeting.

We were delighted to participate in the HSJ Cancer Forum where we facilitated leaders in UK cancer care on how they have more ‘fearless’ conversations that unlock wider collective intelligence around the latest advances in cancer diagnoses,  and system innovation. The session covered how our techniques for fearless conversations help teams to significantly reduce the time from ideation to execution of new ideas; create different collaborative gateways for greater experimental success and invest more dynamically in innovation.

At Fearless Facilitator, we are an expert provider of annual masterclasses for the Life Science Access Academy (LSAA), around relational risk and interpersonal dialogue and how these create the conditions for problem solving through diversity of thought. LSAA is a membership community and learning resource for customer-facing staff in a wide range of roles across the life science industries. A highly regulated sector, our bespoke programmes and team development interventions are considered “one of the best bits of training we’ve had” and are known to release value into teams, companies and commercial operations by bringing the best out of diverse workforces.

A strong advocate for dialogue on the rights of women and girls, our founder Rachel has spent decades working to ensure equity and acceleration of opportunities for women at every stage of the career ladder, against the backdrop of policies and practices that would traditionally hold them back. Whilst greater flexibility is allowing more women to pursue their ambitions, and representation of women at the highest level (the “C-suite”) is steadily rising, it remains harder for most women to progress into management in the first place and they are at least twice as likely to experience microaggressions about their emotional state, appearance and level of seniority at work. Across all the commercial, public, and charitable sectors where we operate, Rachel has facilitated dialogue for corporate and trustee boards keen to shift the dial on diversity and inclusion for women – even where policies have been created with positive intent but continue to impede opportunities for women to perform at the highest levels.

Contact us to learn how The Fearless Facilitator Method® helps businesses and leaders improve team performance, solve an operational challenge, clarify a policy position or respond to a crisis.