After the Webinar: Psychological Safety – Creating a Culture of Trust on Your Team. Q&A with Al Cobos

Webinar presenter Al Cobos answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Psychological Safety: Creating a Culture of Trust on Your Team and Organization. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Can one person really change the culture of the organization, assuming we’re not talking about the Chief or Sheriff? And somehow moving into more of a culture of trust? Can one person really make a difference?

Al Cobos: I would say, yes, and, but you have to be in a position to be able to affect some of that change, and you got to be willing to do some of it alone. I know with one of my friends, and he still working, and he wanted to change the way that field training officers trained their trainees. You’ve got a tenure deputy who trains the new deputies who come out in the field, and it’s you think about a stakeholder or somebody who really shapes culture. Really shapes this culture of trust. My buddy wanted to change it. He wanted to make it more of adult learning concepts. Understanding the way different people learn to really make the experience of the trainee, but also develop the training officer to go through that process much, much better so we would get consistency throughout the organization. And for a number of years, he was doing it alone, but it’s paying dividends because he was able to put people with his training and he was able to have people come to him, “Hey, I’m a sergeant now. I’m a lieutenant now,” and the training they received with this field training program, “It’s really helped me become a better sergeant,” “It definitely helped me being a lieutenant.” We got to provide value to our people, you can do it. The two cop I’ve talked about with the homeless encampment, there was a lot of negativity that was directed their way. I tried to filter some of it because it just wasn’t the way things were done, and it’s a pretty big problem that we’ve been experiencing for decades. And it has gotten bigger over the last few years. But, by giving them the opportunity to develop that good idea, and it worked out. It became the basis for how they deal with homeless today. So, it can happen, it’s just got to be a good, well-placed idea. I know, personally, I wanted to have a leadership development course, a team management course, that I had to pitch, but I had to wait for the right opportunity. I had a certain amount of credibility with my command staff and executives, and I was ready for it. And I’ve spoken to people about it prior to the key meeting we’re going to have. And when I was asked about it, I was able to kind of do my elevator speech about it because I prepared for it. Talked about the benefits but ended up being a course offering that was central to that part of the training, and that’s has impact throughout the organization. So, that’s 80,000 member organizations. So, you can, it’s just, you’ve got to put yourself in the right position. You have to be able to have the credibility to speak knowledgeably about it, to move it in the right direction. Then you got to be able to take the risk, and if you get shut down, maybe you have to try it again. So, that’s the starter template for doing that. There’s no guarantees, but at minimum, you don’t want to retire and think, “Wow, You know, I left all these good ideas on the table when I probably could have made things better,” and then the key one is when somebody else does it and you’re like, “Wow, that was my idea five years ago. I should have ran with it.” Many times, it’s just our personal mental barriers keeping us from get there, but you have to try. No guarantees, but there are some value in trying. The more you try, probably the better you get at presenting it.

Host: And to be fair too, just because an idea isn’t a good idea today, doesn’t mean in a few months, or even a couple of years, that it isn’t a great idea. Sometimes it just takes a while for the right people to be ready to hear that good idea.


Audience Question: How do you mitigate accountability and productivity with ensuring that a positive supportive environment is still maintained? The audience member’s side comment on this was, that the team is not delivering what is needed by the department. So how do you make that balance between accountability and productivity, and yet still be a great supportive environment? 

Al Cobos: I had an issue with the Detective Bureau that I supervised. Good people, but we had a major hang-up, when it came to writing search warrants. There weren’t enough search warrants being written. And if you get minute search warrants, they’re expected skill sets for detectives. If you have some major incident, or a shooting, you’ve got a number of victims and you have to write search warrants to gain evidence in a house to secure a suspect. Those are skill sets that you have to be well versed in at the moment So, I could have said: “Hey, we got to write search warrant once, you guys got to write at least five search warrants a year”. That could have been one approach. But what I tried to do is when you know your teams and you try and draw some commonalities. And that’s the key thing here, trying to find for me, I would find criticism that they would have, let’s say officers and deputies that didn’t make arrests. Like, “Hey, do you know their job is to make arrests? What do you think the minimum number is?” and they would come up with a number. And the conversation I have with them dealing with search warrants is a skill set for detectives is running search warrants. And these are the reasons why and what reasons am I missing? And then they would tell me some additional reasons. And I would ask the question, “So, what’s the minimum number of words that need to be written to maintain that skill set? And we at this point we’ve all agreed that it’s a definitive skill set that you need, but what’s the minimum?” And it’s not coming from me. It’s coming from them. So, there’s a delivery process when it comes to how you want different goals to be met. So, my suggestion would be, to identify what the issue or the issues are, start with the low-hanging fruit, where you can develop a good win, and she, how you can ask questions. Ideally, if you can get them to define what the expectation should be, then you can move the conversation direction of where they’re at now, and then how to attain that particular goal. And again, it’s a longer conversation. And once you have a win there, now you can move on to a larger, more pressing problem. And last thing about this issue, I would get it quite often with my supervisors, they would say, “Hey, I want you to fix this problem.” Okay, relatively complex problem, I would ask, how long has this problem existed? Well, it’s been at least three years. So, we joke with them and say, “Well, I just want half the time to solve it” and they go, “That wasn’t an option.” I would throw it out there because it would give responsibility to the organization. Like, these problems have been around for three years, why are we just addressing them now, and why do I have to fix them in three weeks? I’m going to need a little bit more time. so, we got to figure out how to solve it. It’s basically asking for permission to have a little bit more time to assess it and try and solve it correctly because it’s been here for such a long time.


Audience Question: Is there are any additional learning resources, or maybe the materials or resources that you used to create this training, where else can she learned about creating psychological safety in this context? 

Al Cobos: A good majority of what I do, is about creating questions. I talk about motivational conversation, which is having conversations with your people to move in a specific direction. It got its roots in motivational interviewing, and in the book itself is called, Motivational Interviewing, there’s a third edition out, I’m looking after I left because it’s on my bookshelf, but it’s a Miller Enrollment. It’s about a $90 book, it’s really divided into thirds. I would recommend reading the first third because it’s for the layperson, where you can really understand how to ask questions. Clinicians use it for people who have substance abuse problems, but you can generalize it to the workplace, and that’s what I’ve done with motivational conversations. So, if you read the first third of motivational interviewing, it’ll give you a good basis on how to learn about this question and guidance process. Another book I would recommend is Ask Powerful Questions, and it’s by, Will Wise. And he’s got a whole process about how you ask questions, I think it’s a six-stage process, and I think it’s a good template, and again, it’s about creating conversations, moving people in the right direction. I think if you look at those two books, become familiar with Maslow, and see how that applies to us personally than organizationally, I think it’s a really good starting point on trying to develop a good culture of trust and psychological safety in the workplace. And then there are all kinds of articles on psychological safety. Harvard Business Review is one area I will go for journal articles when it comes to knowing a lot of the organizational aspects of running teams, running a business, psychological safety, and cultural trust. You can query those phrases and you’ll get some good information. And usually, I look at case studies, they’re usually 5-6 pages long, and they have a really good format of bullet points. So, there are some key takeaways. And what I love about it to kind of nerdy aspect of it, but there are all kinds of references that will guide you down a path for further inquiry and then where they’ve got their source information. So those are some key places you can go.

Host: And Harvard Business Review is so good about keeping things understandable for an average person. You don’t have to be a Ph.D. to read Harvard Business Review.


Audience Question: Do you have any tips to encourage people to let go of the grudges they may have been holding from an incident that happened years ago in order to facilitate trust moving forward? 

Al Cobos: And with the decision-making class, I had, I would have this wheel. And in the center is where you’re making decisions, and then everything revolved around this wheel. So, all the things that we have to do. And people would say, you got to go to work, go to a family, go to school. You know, to-do lists at home, kids. All these things. But I always say “Hey, there’s something you never just put up there,” and it’s the enemy. Can the enemy be the center of your thoughts? It can. How about anger? How long can people be angry? Forever, okay? And one of the things that I conveyed to the class was granted everyone has been disciplined. So, there are some angry people in there, they’re pretty ticked off. But, it was one of the things I had read that I would convey to the class and say, “Look, people get screwed over, people get the short end of the stick.” And particularly they got screwed over and they didn’t deserve it. It was not fair, it shouldn’t happen, they have every right, to be angry. But you have to make a determination where the anger or that grudge is going to live with you forever and we’ve talked about the physiological impacts, but one of the things that really caught people’s attention is… Let’s say how many of you have property. I’ve got a couple of rentals. People are proud about that. What would happen if you had somebody eliminate your rental and they weren’t paying rent? “I evict them.” “Why?” “Because it’s wrong? I mean they got to pay for their rent, they got to know they’ve got to be responsible for that.” Is that similar to somebody’s holding a grudge, someone who’s mad forever and they have it gotten to the point where they want to let go of it? And if you think about that you’re letting that grudge, you let the anger you’re letting that negative emotion live rent-free in your head. Who’s the person to get rid of? It’s the person that you need to evict. Because once you evict them, evict that thought you’re going to have a better experience. So, it’s one of the strategies and stories I would tell. You’d see people like it. “Wow, that’s me.” This guy’s talking about me, but it’s a way to convey so.


Audience Question:  A number of our audience members caught that the psychological needs includes adequate staffing. So, for agencies who are chronically understaffed, how do we bolster psychological safety while the leadership is trying to staff up? And what recommendations do you have for improving psychological safety for an organization that is struggling with the staffing issues and staff are feeling burned out? 

Al Cobos: It’s a lot of it, has to be an honest, not just assessment, but communication of the reality of the situation. We are short-staffed. We’re trying to get more people on board. Then conversely, people would complain about the quality of people coming in as well. That’s where we rely on you that people are working here to bring them up to speed because you know, we’ve got two different issues we’re dealing with, which is a staffing shortage. And then once they get here, the current employees are not happy with the experience level or judgment level they have. So, I would always try and make it a, it’s a two-way street, and it will bring people in, but we’re also counting on you where they become feeling part of the organization to bring people up to speed. Having said that, though, there are a number of different strategies you can use. I knew a lieutenant that worked for the jail facilities. Chronically understaffed, people work a ton of overtime. And he was very upfront with them and say, “Hey, this is the situation. I think it’s going to last six to seven months, maybe longer. But this is what I can do for you,” and there were certain things you will offer up to them, in terms of, you may be able to work out on duty. Time off is always difficult because of the staffing. But it was actually well-received. That was pretty impressive. The way he handled it, he didn’t pay for it, but he had an In-N-Out truck show up that he set up, got it set up, so employees for lunch, go buy In-N-Out burgers during their shifts. And it was just something, he coordinated, but it really resonated well with its employees, and it was not just deputies but the supervisors. But the key thing was, he was honest about the assessment, he tried to do some things just to make it a little bit better. And it had some positive impacts. “But I would never promise that this will end in six months. This is where we’re at right now, and we need your help.” But try to figure out what would be important that would demonstrate that you care. They’re willing to help out to make things at least a little bit easier. So, it’s just one of the strategies you can use.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Psychological Safety: Creating a Culture of Trust on Your Team and Organization


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