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Achieving a Culture of Collective Mindfulness: How Mindful Is Your Company?

Achieving a Culture of Collective Mindfulness: How Mindful Is Your Company?

Last year, we covered the topic of High Reliability Organizations (HROs) and the five (5) principles that create a common thread to help organizations better anticipate, prevent, and contain unexpected events.

We have found through further documentation from sources such as the Harvard Business Review and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that a deeper interpersonal and interorganizational sense of “mindfulness” is a philosophy built around the principles employed by HROs.

However, before we dive into the idea of mindfulness and how to achieve a “Collective Mindfulness,” let’s quickly recap these core principles:

  1. Preoccupation with Failure

Within successful HROs, everyone is focused on errors and near-misses, learning from them and figuring out how to prevent them from happening again. Here, attention to detail is critical. Recognizing and fixing problems is everyone’s responsibility and is encouraged and supported by leadership.

  1. Reluctance to Simplify

HROs require the constant asking of “why” question and inviting others with diverse experience to express their opinions. The belief is that the more you’re immersed in something, the harder it is for you to objectively observe and question things that need questioning.

  1. Sensitivity to Operations

An ongoing concern with the unexpected is a distinguishing characteristic of HROs. Hallmark actions include closing loopholes in processes where there is a potential threat to life, maintaining situational awareness, developing teams that speak up and paying attention to the frontline.

  1. Commitment to Resilience

HROs employ the concept that things will go wrong that are inevitable and unpredictable, mistakes will be made, and you will get into trouble. However, quickly identifying issues and having structures in place to immediately respond, understanding that minimizing the harm and reducing collateral damage is key to proactivity, will go a long way to mitigating risk.

  1. Deference to Expertise

Finding and using experts for the given problem in the given time is a core practice for HROs. More specifically, this means recognizing that those closest to the frontline are the experts and empowering them to make decisions when a critical issue arises results in an expeditious mitigation of harm.

Born out of the everyday practices of Naval Aviation, CATSHOT’s philosophy embraces these principles because they are critical to enabling a high-performance culture of excellence and supports a heightened sense of collective mindfulness among the team.

The idea of mindfulness also indicates a combination of both individual and team alertness, flexibility, and adaptability, thus breeding a Culture of Collective Mindfulness within the organization.

So, how does mindfulness translate into higher reliability and better performance for your organization?


The CATSHOT Approach to Mindfulness

Organizational mindfulness refers to the extent to which an organization captures discrete details about emerging threats and creates a capability to act decisively in response to these identifiable trends.

CATSHOT has significant experience in this mindfulness approach from our background in jet aviation. Organizations like TOPGUN, Blue Angels, and combat aviation in general, practice these principles every day. Other industries such as Medical, Nuclear Power, Power distribution, and commercial Airlines also use these approaches to improve their reliability.

For instance, high reliability is increasingly prevalent in the medical industry where decisions and accountability can be the difference between life or death. When a preventable situation results in a near or actual catastrophic event (loss of life), it is used as a catalyst for organizational change.

Each organization must have an internal mechanism that is constantly looking to identify and then eliminate potential threats to operations. Although this focuses primarily around patient safety and security, implementing HRO principles and promoting increased mindfulness will—from our experience in Naval Aviation and observations of similar industries—create a halo effect that improves organizational quality metrics.

More specifically, mindfulness consists of the continued discourse around potential threats to reliability within the organization, in reference to the Preoccupation with Failure principle.

Individuals and institutions can anticipate threats by paying close attention to what is being done, or not done during the course of everyday activities to avoid errors and identify early signs of impending failure.

Instead of “expecting the unexpected,” by embracing mindfulness you are encouraged to confront the unexpected by questioning the adequacy of existing assumptions. This develops a more nuanced understanding regarding the overall context of situations by encouraging the consideration of the unknown and considering reliable alternatives, or Reluctance to Simplify.

We’re constantly seeking to better understand not only how systems and processes contribute to errors, but how—through Relentless Innovation— they can be improved to deliver the best results possible.

The goal here is to think differently and to pay closer attention to the details of your processes as they take place. The result is that we’re able to make changes that are both effective and sustainable.

These detailed understandings are then integrating into the big picture, or Sensitivity to Operations. Leaders and staff must seek to discover how their systems and processes affect performance and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Mindfulness also means that everyone within the organization truly understands the overall state of operations, where they’re more deftly equipped to identify errors and processes that need improvement and adjusting to the demands of a situation to keep everyone on track.

This level of situational awareness is maintained through daily standup’s, department meetings, and regular communication between management and frontline staff.

Of course, things can and do go wrong. Recognizing the inevitability of setbacks and thoroughly analyzing, coping with, and learning from them is called the Commitment to Resilience.

However, as a high performing organization, you must be comfortable operating in demanding environments where things can, and often do, go wrong. Recognizing the inevitability of setbacks and thoroughly analyzing, coping with, and learning from them helps establish the principle of Commitment to Resilience.

At CATSHOT, we call this the state of being Highly Motivated, or the constant effort to become and sustain being a Highly Motivated Organization (HMO).

By being proactive, we establish systems and processes that encourages performance continuity before, during, and after failures or crisis events. Being motivated also means that instead of seeking to assign blame on an individual level, that focus is turned to improving the overall process, incorporate feedback, and to learn and grow from that information.

Finally, it is important to recognize that team dynamics are more important than organizational hierarchy. Rather than leaning on authority when making important decisions, we Defer to Expertise, where experience and skill determines who makes decisions.

This means any member of the team who has the skills to best manage a situation can assume a leadership role. Mindful teams develop an understanding of each other’s specialties, respect one another, and hold each other accountable for addressing concerns.

This framework for Collective Mindfulness has been successfully adopted across multiple industries and business settings. Ultimately, success in becoming an HRO depends on the cultivation of mindfulness in both ourselves and within our teams.


Evaluate your Company’s Collective Mindfulness

Take this quiz (borrowed from Fast Company’s 5 Habits of Highly Reliable Organizations) to rate your company’s collective mindfulness.

Give yourself the following number of points for each of the corresponding statements: 1 point for “Not at all,” 2 points for “To some extent,” and 3 points for “A great deal.”

  1. There is an organization-wide sense of susceptibility to the unexpected.
  2. Everyone feels accountable for reliability.
  3. Leaders pay as much attention to managing unexpected events as they do to achieving formal organizational goals.
  4. People at all levels of our organization value quality.
  5. We have spent time identifying how our activities could potentially harm our organization, employees, customers, other interested parties, and the environment at large.
  6. We pay attention to when and why our employees, customers, or other interested parties might feel peeved at or disenfranchised by the organization.
  7. There is widespread agreement among the firm’s members on what shouldn’t go wrong.
  8. There is widespread agreement among the firm’s members on what could go wrong.

A total score higher than 16 indicates an exemplarily mindful infrastructure in your firm. A score lower than 10 suggests a need for immediate improvement.

Further Reading: Building Your Center of Excellence: 5 Principles of High Reliability Organizations (HROs).

To learn more about the value Collective Mindfulness and Creating Your Culture of Excellence, send an email to: ops@catshotgroup.com and let’s discuss how CATSHOT Group can help your organization reach peak performance!


Also published on Medium.

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