Mar 16, 2018

Tools to foster ‘thriving tribes’

Tools to foster ‘thriving tribes’

A leader must place equal emphasis on performance and wellbeing to foster a successful team, according to speaker and author Graeme Cowan.

Mr Cowan, an expert in creating a mentally healthy work culture, is among the speakers at the Resource Industry Network 2018 Safety Conference.

Registrations close today for the event – to be held in Mackay next Thursday and Friday.

Mr Cowan will be presenting on ‘Leading thriving tribes’ as well as leading a session on ways to help a distressed workmate.

It is among a raft of conference sessions focusing on mental wellbeing – something Mr Cowan sees as an important trend at industry safety events.

He said even in industries with significant physical risks such as mining and construction, there was growing appreciation of the damaging impact and costs of mental ill health.

His session on ‘Leading thriving tribes’ offers tools to help leaders increase their own and their team’s resilience, mood and performance.

“I describe a thriving tribe as where there is equal emphasis on performance and wellbeing – that’s what I would describe as a thriving tribe and I really believe that is a critical element of a successful team in these volatile and uncertain times,” he said.

“There’s a lot of evidence now that shows that if employees are motivated and are working in roles that play to their strengths, then ultimately the organisation is going to be much more successful.”

Mr Cowan speaks of the importance of having a psychologically safe team, where there is strong interpersonal trust and respect in the group and people are comfortable.

“It means people feel confident and are encouraged to make suggestions,” he said.

“They know they won’t be shot down for making suggestions and they also know that if they try things and take moderate risks they won’t be sacrificed if it doesn’t work out.”

Members contributed pretty much equally in terms of talking in psychologically safe teams, he said.

“A leader may have to encourage the quieter people to speak up and have their suggestions,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean it’s a democracy but it does mean people feel included in the decision-making process.”

Mr Cowan said leaders fostering psychologically safe teams encouraged ideas.

“They ask people for suggestions and, more importantly, if someone says something they don’t say  ‘no, but’ or ‘we’ve already tried that’. They say things like ‘tell me more’ or  ‘yes, and’. They may suggest a pilot if they don’t have a budget to do something. They really think of ways to encourage that interaction,” he said.

“One team ritual that improves psychological safety the most is every week every person on the team shares a risk they’ve taken the previous week, an interpersonal risk.

“So there are two or three really tangible ideas as to what leaders can do to make a difference there.”

Leaders should consider themselves the chief energy officer of the group and look at ways to maximise energy, he said.

A proven motivating factor is to acknowledge progress on meaningful work.

Mr Cowan also believes leaders should take the time to understand what is really important to each person, and what out-of-work activity reviltalises them.

He also stresses the benefits of knowing people’s key strengths and playing to them. Good resources are available at and

The 2018 RIN Safety Conference will be held March 22-23 at the Breakwater Bar & Restaurant and Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre.

To register visit


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