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Co-create, don't dictate

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

This weekly tweak is part of our series to make work better together - get it direct to your inbox.

Traffic lights, roundabouts and human behaviour

We are big fans of the work at ‘The Ready’ and Aaron Dignan’s book “A Brave New Work. In it, he talks about traffic lights and roundabouts and compares how the systems work and their effect on drivers.

Traffic lights work on the principle that drivers are told what to do. Red means stop, and green means go.

Roundabouts work on the principle that drivers need to constantly observe, make judgments, and respond to the information (traffic) around them.

So which is better?

Traffic delays - roundabouts reduce traffic delays by 89%

Upkeep costs - roundabouts cost €5,000 to €10,000 less per year to upkeep

Safety - roundabouts have 90% fewer fatal collisions and 75% fewer collisions that result in injury than traffic lights.

And yet most traffic junctions have traffic lights, not roundabouts because it’s the norm and because we have a general perspective that giving direct orders produces better outcomes. In fact, it doesn’t.

Let’s think a little about why that is. At traffic lights, we await instruction and dial down our own awareness and decision-making. We are relying on being told what to do and when.

At roundabouts, we heighten our awareness. We are taking information from multiple sources and making lots of decisions and judgments by the time we exit the roundabout.

At work, it's the same. In traffic light mode - we are told what to do. We are more likely to switch off the rest of our brains, ignoring important information in favour of instruction. Prioritising following instructions rather than the outcome's success means we are less invested in the outcome and less engaged in the process.

In roundabout mode - we feel trusted and valued for our input and safe to make decisions and observations along the way. We become more focused on the outcomes, more invested, and get a better sense of accomplishment and learning in the process. A better outcome for the organisation and for the individual.

Regardless of where you are in an organisational hierarchy, there are some key learnings here.

A Better Work Tweak - co-create, don’t dictate

Whether you are driving a project or task, managing people or organisational leader consider your role in co-creation

So how can you co-create with your team? Here are a few tips:

• Encourage open communication: Create a culture of open and honest communication within your team. This might mean holding regular team meetings or one-on-one check-ins where team members can share their thoughts and ideas.

• Involve team members in decision-making: Instead of dictating tasks and decisions, involve your team in the process. Ask for input on project plans or solicit feedback on different approaches to a problem.

• Recognise and value diversity: Embrace the diversity of your team and recognize that everyone brings unique skills and perspectives to the table. Encourage team members to share their thoughts and ideas, and make an effort to understand and incorporate their perspectives into decision-making.

A Better Tweak - understand your power and influence

Leaders/managers/influential colleagues: No matter how much of an ‘open door’ policy you might have, there may be many of your colleagues who don’t think it’s worth their job, reputation, or career prospects to challenge your thinking.

It is your responsibility to continuously try and build psychological safety.

This is a whole other blog - a book in fact, but start by actively asking for input. Show appreciation for the input, even if you don’t agree or don’t see it’s value yet.

eg. “I’m thinking of going in this direction but I’m really not sure it’s the right thing to do. I need your input, what are you seeing? What would you do? Are there other options?”

Colleagues/teammates: If you don’t feel you have the power or influence to adopt the above, ask to contribute your input and ideas on a project or problem. It’s not in your interest to jeopardise your job but it’s way more fulfilling when you get to input your valuable insights. If you can, try and find ways to share your input in ways your team/manager/leaders will appreciate and welcome.

By adopting a co-creation approach to work, you can build a stronger and more collaborative team, that is motivated and invested in the success of the organisation. So next time you're faced with a decision or task, try co-creating with your team instead of dictating – you might be surprised by the results!

Michelle Wallace


A Better Work


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