The best team coaches know that creating a “safe space” to discuss issues is key to succeeding. They skillfully read the energy in the room, manage expectations and juggle the different personalities to make everyone feel comfortable.
However, it’s even more powerful when the leader and team learn to create a “safe space” for themselves in the normal course of business.
Sometimes it just takes one or two members to show openness and some degree of vulnerability to dramatically improve trust throughout the whole team. By modelling these key behaviours you can make your team feel safe and in doing so encourage more open-minded, resilient and motivated working relationships.
1. Show some vulnerability
Encourage your ideas to be challenged. Let nothing be sacred. You got where you are because you are smart, however, we all have blind spots.
- Admit when you don’t have all the answers.
- Own it when you just don’t know.
- Create a safe space for this type of candidness.
- Publicly own the mistakes of the past.
- Lay those out and praise when others find flaws and find improvements.
- Set an example of healthy vulnerability. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
2. Stay curious and humble to avoid the blame game
If team members sense you try to blame them, they will close up. John Gottman’s research at the University of Washington shows that blame and criticism reliably escalate conflict, leading to defensiveness and, eventually, disengagement.
The alternative to blame is curiosity. If you believe you already know what the other person is thinking, then you’re not ready to have a conversation. Instead, adopt a learning mindset, knowing you don’t have all the facts.
One way of doing this is by asking for feedback. This disarms, illuminates blind spots in communication skills, and shows vulnerability. Try this speedy feedback exercise next time.
3. Be clear on goals and processes
Make sure that everyone on the team knows what the team’s and individual goals are and that everyone is working towards the same thing.
Psychological safety isn’t about creating an environment where “anything goes”, it’s actually the complete opposite of that. People need to feel “safe” that they know where everyone stands.
Creating really clear understanding of team goals (and individual goals) can increase the sense of safety because everything is transparent. That’s particularly the case if the goals are developed by the team themselves – in line with Saberr principles.
4. Be Available
Let your team know that you’re always there to help and they shouldn’t be scared to come to you with questions. It’s important to give everyone some autonomy, but make yourself available for questions and advice.