A safe team environment

In my earlier post Wisdom of teams I talked about the importance of people being able to speak up in their teams. More often than not it takes courage to do so, courage that not everybody has in same quantities.

Team members need less courage in an environment where it is ok to speak up, an environment where people feel safe and what they say will not be used against them in any bad way. Creating such an environment in our corporate world with its somebody-is-accountable attitude is easier said than done. Trust usually comes slowly and only with small incremental steps.

I did a course on leadership recently where information sharing and feedback between the participants was the key element to learning. The course leader succeeded in creating an safe atmosphere an absolute catalyst for the success of the course.

During the course and afterwards I have thought many times what made the safe environment came up with two elements that stand out:

  1. From the start the culture presented was one of where everything could be said. The participants had no history with each other so this was the culture
  2. The facilitator made great efforts to preserve the safe environment, encouraging people to speak and making sure their contribution was well received and rewarded.

I think the start element is hard to replicate in a company setting, your co-workers usually have some kind of history with each other. I believe the second element holds the key to a safe environment: it requires continuous deliberate action. And it requires action by somebody taking care to stay outside the discussion. Somebody who is not interested in the outcome but in the process.

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