What is destroying psychological safety, change agility and collaboration agility?

Sai Kumar Chandran

The world we live in, has four pursuits that a vast majority of us are stuck in (I won’t make an educated guess on the percentage, but will stick to saying a vast majority). These are:

  1. A pursuit of material possessions or materials for survival
  2. A pursuit of means to achieve the material possessions or materials for survival
  3. A need to assert whatever kind and amount of power one has, on the closest unsuspecting or available person or group of people
  4. Putting on a display of whatever little knowledge or capability one has, or thinks one has through actions, opinions, and stand on various matters

While the first two are almost dictated by the direction in which the human civilization itself is headed, the 3rd and 4th points above have some complexities.
On the 3rd point: Power, has been a pursuit of all animal forms, not just of humans. Power is what an individual X uses to get another individual Y to do what Y would not have otherwise done or considered doing. Some of this is desirable, some of it undesirable. Similarly, Power is what an individual Y will use to resist or prevent an individual X from succeeding in doing or getting something done. Again, sometimes it is desirable, and sometimes it is undesirable.

There is good power, and the good use of power, which gets things done. But the impact on the one who wields power can sometimes be one of addiction and intoxication from that power, leading to an obsession with power. And in this obsession, one violates others and makes them wary of power or of wanting to use power to meet power in opposition. This is the birth of power struggles and its many forms from lying to deception to games to battles. If these power struggles, are between 2 individuals, things may even go unnoticed. But if it is between groups in an organization, between communities or between nations, it is going to get noticed. However, whether power struggles get noticed or not, it has its share of impact. One such impact is that as soon as power struggle starts: empathy, compassion, love, joy, camaraderie, collaboration and so much more go for a toss. This in turn breaks down actions and outcomes at all levels. In the words of Carl Gustav Jung:

“Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.”

On the 4th point: knowledge and capability have been the pursuit of humankind, for all its existence. From survival skills to tools to technology we have progressed much since the earliest evidence of civilization. True, many scholars say that some of our ancestors were much more advanced, but for where we are without another race or civilization to compare outside Earth, we have progressed. However, this progress has also brought with it a lot of clutter. Knowledge and capabilities have become shallow and opportunistic for many of us. Especially, in the matters of values/virtues that are important to our fellow humans, animals, plants, and earth as a whole, most of us will be found wanting.

This is the era of Insufficient and Ineffective knowledge and capabilities because all of us are so busy running for our survival and material pursuits, that we hardly stop to take notice of the way we are acting or the impact we are having. We may be good with our subject matter of work or earning a living, maybe even the best. However, there are so many complex capabilities required to succeed in this world today that we may not have many of the ingredients of holistic success. Some of the most important ingredients we lack are values and virtues to live a responsible, peaceful, harmonious, and joyous life. With such shortcomings, we fantasize about our capabilities, even make tall claims. Most of us are so busy acting up, giving opinions, taking hardened stands, that the world today has become hypersensitive, and intolerant. In the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“Especially today; there is not much focus on inner values in education. Then, instead of inner values, we become self-centred, always thinking: I, I, I. A self-centred attitude brings a sense of insecurity and fear. Distrust. Too much fear brings frustration. Too much frustration brings anger. So that’s the psychology, the system of mind, of emotion, which creates a chain reaction.”

There is realization today, in some quarters of these challenges. And hence, there are individuals, communities and organizations today putting in the right kind of effort to overcome these challenges. However, it is because of these power struggles and Insufficient and Ineffective capabilities that most communities, organizations, and institutions often suffer.

In an organization, when the single-minded pursuit of the Organizational Vision, Mission, Values and Strategy gets replaced by power struggles and insufficient and ineffective capabilities much is lost. Ultimately if this prevails, there is a loss of Brand Image and Profitability. But the place where the power struggles and insufficient and ineffective capabilities start impacting and eroding the organization first is the destruction of psychological safety, change agility and collaboration agility.
With the context established for what is destroying psychological safety, change agility and collaboration agility, let’s get a little deeper.

A balanced display of power, and the right application of capability is good. There are also times when we use power to overcome the absence of capability – like when we delegate or outsource with little or no understanding of how the end outcome is achieved. Similarly, there are times when we use the capability to overcome the absence of power – like when we use subject matter expertise to win an argument or decision with little or no convincing power. When we stay in this balanced use of power or capability, whether using one at a time or both together, we are clearly in the Green Zone or Zone of Balance as mentioned in the accompanying image. In this Zone of Balance, we sometimes do not use power and capability both also, to avoid conflicts or exertion. All of this is desirable and worth our while.

The Zone of Balance is where Psychological Safety, Change Agility and Collaborative Agility of individuals and groups thrive.

However, it the outside the Zone of Balance that the challenge starts. How do we get outside the Zone of Balance? – by the Imbalanced and inappropriate assertion of power and capabilities. The imbalance and inappropriateness have four combinations++ or effects, born out of the way deficit or excess of power and capabilities, get combined to give:

  • +,+ Effect – or excess assertion of power, excess assertion of capability
  • -,+ Effect – or deficit assertion of power, excess assertion of capability
  • -,- Effect – or deficit assertion of power, deficit assertion of capability
  • +,- Effect – or excess assertion of power, deficit assertion of capability

++ (These can be seen arranged in this order in the diagram, as you move in the clockwise direction from the right side.)

One thing to keep in mind while referring to this model: the use of the word excess or deficit doesn’t mean the presence or absence of power or capability. It only means, whatever power and capability a person has, is getting used in excess or deficit.

Now let’s see the impact of each of these categories.

Impact of the +,+ Effect – or excess assertion of power, excess assertion of capability

Intuitively you will be able to see that when excess power and excess capability are asserted this is a kind of Intelligent Aggression. The individual or group with this expression is using all resources available in the smartest way possible. However, since this is done with inappropriate motivations it results in:

  • Control – where the person exercising control – wants to be in charge without really needing to be in control nor being capable of producing positive outcomes from the control. And the recipient feels bound down by the other individual to let go and be at the receiving end of the whims of the person exercising control.
  • Coercion – is usually a heavy-handed dealing and a difficult to get out situation created by the exerciser for the recipient. The recipient is forced to comply with demands and instructions in this case.
  • Misguided Autonomy – is where with adeptness the exerciser demands and asserts independence and act as they please. The exerciser may even say that this is my right, and this is the only way I give my best. They leave the people around to be subject to their whimsical moves and decisions.


  • Loss of motivation, fear and hurt in the recipients
  • People getting into the attack mode to defend themselves
  • Loss of reputation for the exerciser of this style of operation
  • Overall breakdown of work and hence the ripple effect on the end customer

Impact of the -,+ Effect – or deficit assertion of power, excess assertion of capability

In this style, the power is muted and even applied in a hidden manner, but the assertion of capability is evident. This is a Destabilizing Intelligence at play, where the actions of the exerciser lead to:

  • Manipulation – getting people to do things by giving them a pretext which they are sensitive to and is used cunningly to take advantage of them.
  • Misguiding – getting people to do things by giving them a wrong pretext and hiding the actual impact
  • Misinformation – getting people to believe in inappropriate content, and some of this then extends to becoming rumours and gossip


  • Confusion and misalignment
  • Conflicts and disillusionment
  • Overall breakdown of work and hence the ripple effect on the end customer

Impact of the -,- Effect – or deficit assertion of power, deficit assertion of capability

In this style, the individuals do not see the benefit of directly applying their power and capabilities in a balanced or imbalanced way. So, they go behind the scenes and do random things. This results in a display of Unpredictable Outburst and Backlash and commonly seen phenomena like:

  • Evasiveness – where the exerciser does not really do what needs to be done and finds all the reasons to justify their actions.
  • Victim Mode – is a display put on by the exerciser that everyone and everything are against them, and they are unable to operate since the odds are stacked up against them.
  • Sabotage – is when the exerciser uses the loopholes in the system to set up others on the path of failure and harm using the system and other people as weapons.

Intuitively, now you will see how this is the exact opposite of the +,+ effect, but equally harmful.


  • Broken morale of people around because of randomness
  • Extreme anxiety about what will unfold
  • Others start taking evasive actions due to someone else being so
  • Overall breakdown of work and hence the ripple effect on the end customer

Impact of the +,- Effect – or excess assertion of power, deficit assertion of capability

This is a case of pure aggression and meaningless pursuits. The use of power without real substance is quite defeating of the work and direction of the organization. While individually, people and teams may seem productive, collectively little is achieved, if the situation prevails. Such display of power without thought leads to:
l Silo & Turf Mindset – where selfish individuals and groups work the system for their own good and end outcomes.

  • Minimum Effort Approach – where common minimum programs are declared and suck to avoid people getting in each other’s path.
  • Meaningless Aggression – where the rule of the game is: to attack anyone who is out of the line of the aggressors thinking and interests.
  • Noisiness – is basically just creating a lot of gestures and posturing by people who want to put on a display of their power.


  • Isolated and split people
  • Heightened aggression and regular use of it
  • Rapid destruction of the environment and collective outcomes
  • Overall breakdown of work and hence the ripple effect on the end customer

Just a note to close this section: the observed phenomena, traits and behaviours mentioned in the previous four sections are indicative, but the most common/prominent ones. There are several other such perils that you may have seen and would like to deal with.

The organizations that have successfully recognized and managed the above challenges would have clear evidence of three or more of the following:

  • Education and Awareness – to help the individuals and teams to know the difference between the desirable and the undesirable and their impacts.
  • Clear role boundaries and interlinkages of processes – to help facilitate the smartest ways of working.
  • Rituals and Symbolism – which reminds and reinforces the appropriate behaviours in individuals and teams.
  • Effective performance measurements and management – to measure behaviours that matter to the organizational and collective success, while giving importance to individual contributions – where it matters.
  • Policy and governance – to detect and remedy inappropriate behaviours.
  • Whole System Connectedness – around concepts of Psychological Safety, Change Agility and Collaborative Agility as the core contributors to the cultural identity of the organization. Hence, everything – from strategy to rewards to branding has these built-in by design and is not left to the whims of individuals and teams.

A lot of this may already exist in pockets, and in the package of various initiatives in your organization. But as the last point in the previous section indicates: Whole System Integration is the real deal-maker if you want to facilitate real Psychological Safety, Change Agility and Collaborative Agility in your organization.

Sai Kumar Chandran is the founder of OrbitShift. He is a coaching and consulting practitioner and an entrepreneur at heart. He can be reached at saikumarchandran@orbitshift.com.

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