Page updated 22.1.2020

“If we hide our mistakes, how can we learn from them?” – TUAS Fellow Ronald Camp talks about psychological safety at work

Meet Dr Ronald Camp, Deputy Director of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) and Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour and International Business at the University of Regina − and a new TUAS Fellow.

This year, three new invited experts bring a breath of internationality to the invited expert programme by Turku University of Applied Sciences (TUAS). In this piece, we introduce Deputy Director Ronald Camp from the University of Regina, Canada, who was appointed as a TUAS Fellow  in 2019 for a five-year period with comparative management and leadership, particularly as it applies to team psychological safety and mental health, as his area of expertise. The appointment is connected to the operations of TUAS Master School  of Engineering and Business.

Let’s find out what our new TUAS Fellow thinks of multicultural research collaboration, organizational development, and leadership that facilitates learning from mistakes. (And talk a little bit about heavy metal.)

Importance of interaction between countries

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Ronald Camp visited Turku and Turku University of Applied Sciences in late October 2019. The city of Turku just witnessed the first snowflakes of the coming winter. This didn’t scare Ronald Camp, who arrives from a region in Canada where an average winter means -20−30 degrees Celsius, some days even -40 (which, we agree, is simply too cold).

In addition to his Associate Professor role at the University of Regina, Dr Camp is the Deputy Director of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT). It is a research consortium set up by the Canadian government with the intention to build a national network that focuses on the mental health issues of public safety personnel and how to best treat and prevent these issues. Some researchers in the consortium also work on extending the network internationally. Dr Camp is one of them.

”I believe the world is a safer place if people from different cultures are brought closer together,” he says. ”Even low-level interactions between countries are important. When we have a contact, even small-scale one, let’s say in research, it lowers the possibility we start a conflict with that country.”

That is, people rarely start a war against their friends.

Returning every year, like a migratory bird

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How did Dr Camp find his way to Southwest Finland and get connected to TUAS?

”The very first time I visited Turku was in 2007 when I participated in a conference at the University of Turku,” he explains.

The next year, TUAS signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Regina in Canada. Those discussions, back when people from TUAS visited Dr Camp’s home institution, created the foundation for the connection he now has with TUAS.

“I took a six-month sabbatical in 2010 and spent it in Finland,” Dr Camp recaps. “My wife travelled with me, and our son, who went to Turku International School during that time.”

While spending the summer of 2010 in Turku, Camp also went to Ruisrock, Finland’s oldest and nationally iconic rock festival, which takes place every summer on the picturesque Ruissalo island.

Of course, one is curious to know which artists performed that year.

”Well, for example, Ozzy Osbourne and Slash,” Dr Camp says. “But we also went to see Apocalyptica earlier that year. What surprised me was the age range in the audience. In Canada, heavy metal tends to be young people’s thing. In Finland, it seems to be for everyone.”

All in all, Dr Camp can be described as an annual visitor in Turku, returning to Southwest Finland pretty much every year since his 2010 sabbatical.

“I just said to him that he is like a migratory bird because he usually visits Turku in spring,” laughs TUAS’ Head of International Affairs Anu Härkönen, who got to know Camp over ten years ago.

According to Dr Camp, spring is a great time to visit Turku. “The riverside is suddenly full of cafés and people and flowers, and it’s very green.

During some of his visits, he has taught local students, for example in many TUAS degree programmes. Sometimes, he has brought a group of his MBA students with him.

Uncertain working environments feed anxiety

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Within CIPSRT, Camp’s research focuses on the role of leadership in public safety and particularly in supporting the mental health of public safety officers. Due to the nature of their work, the risk of developing mental health issues in these professions is higher than average.

Those involved by their professions in a crisis situation, such as an accident or an act of violence, cannot know what to expect, except perhaps the unexpected, and the threat of danger is constantly present. Environments such as this are called ”VUCA environments”, a term coined by the U.S. army in the 1990s for environments that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

”VUCA environments are highly challenging for the officers involved,” Dr Camp describes. “We can’t control the situation. We can’t change the uncertainty it brings along. What can be controlled, however, is the level of uncertainty at work that depends on, for example, leadership issues.”

”The more uncertainty you have inside the office, the harder it will be to deal with uncertainty outside the office. With better leadership we can reduce uncertainty inside the office, which improves officers’ resources to deal with the uncertainty related to the VUCA-type environments they work in.”

The objective is also to reduce stigma associated with seeking help for mental health disorders by developing leadership practices and arranging related coaching.

If mistakes aren’t allowed, mistakes will be hidden

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Psychological safety at work is a key factor in other environments and other work communities, too, not only for the well-being of individual employees but for organizational development.

In order to turn the organizational culture into a safer environment where mistakes are allowed so that people, and the organization, can also learn from them, the example must be set by top management. They are in key position to show whether one’s work environment is safe for failure.

Dr Camp explains that if the environment is not safe to a high-ranking person to say, “I made a mistake”, then it’s not safe for middle managers to do so, either. And when it’s not safe to them to admit failure, of course it doesn’t feel safe for any of those who work for them.

”So, the change starts at the top. And what’s more, if we can’t admit our mistakes, it means we need to hide them. And if we hide our mistakes and failures, how can we learn from them?”

The alternative for hiding the mistakes made is to completely avoid making any by being over-cautious. Exaggerated carefulness does not help create a fruitful culture for organizations to learn by doing – and by making mistakes.

Dr Camp also points out, ”We can’t always point exactly which decision is correct anyway. We can say, ’doing this seems to be better than doing that,’ but we can’t know for sure.”

Learn to accept that change may take time

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Another problem is the culture of many organizations, according to Dr Camp, in which things are expected to be perfect right now or right away. ”We have to be reminded that imperfect can be good enough.”

He describes how change is eventual, taking place over time. ”By learning from mistakes, we know better the next time. Time after time we improve a bit. And even if we don’t make much difference instantly, we do make more difference over time.”

Sometimes the change takes place over generations. “It may be that the next generation is doing things better or wiser than we are now. And those coming after them make even better decisions than they did. This is how change happens.”

About TUAS Fellow programme

TUAS Fellows is a programme aimed at invited experts at Turku University of Applied Sciences. The programme fosters and extends our collaboration network globally and brings added value to our RDI activities.

The first invited experts started in the TUAS Fellow scheme in 2016. Each Fellow participates in the scheme for a period of five years, after which the membership may be renewed.

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Text: Mirva Virtanen
Photo: TUAS Vice Rector Juhani Soini (left) and TUAS Fellow Dr Ronald Camp