Creating Safe Cultures

Creating Safe Cultures
April 10, 2019 Linda Murray
In Leadership, Team

Let me ask you, would you rather be trusted or admired?

Before you answer this question, think about the times you’ve both excelled and failed. In what type of environment did you perform at your best and worst?

I’ve always performed at my best when my talents are encouraged, and my efforts are both supported and appreciated by others.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: your team members aren’t any different We all want to be inspired as well as valued.

Building a high-performing team takes more than assembling a group of talented and highly skilled people. First you need to build trust and to do that, you need to create a culture of safety.

I’m talking about psychological and emotional safety here, not physical.

If you’ve had a look at Google’s study, Project Aristotle, which I’ve mentioned before, you’ll know the results showed that psychological safety is about the number one factor contributing to effective teams.

And psychological safety is all about trust. It’s about feeling safe enough within the team to take risks when you need to. It’s about trusting that everyone in the team will back each other up.

It makes sense. If you know it’s OK to take a risk, why wouldn’t you try something new? And when you try something new, that’s where exciting discoveries are made.

Why a Culture of Safety is So Important.

The reason safety has such a dramatic effect on team collaboration and effectiveness comes down to the way the human brain has developed over time.

  • When we feel safe and secure our brains release neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which underlie our feelings of happiness and relaxation.
  • When we’re happy and relaxed, we can tap into the creative side of our brains and discover new ideas or solve problems.
  • When we trust others, it’s easier to collaborate, which also increases effectiveness.
  • When we don’t trust them, our brains release cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.” This pushes up our fear levels, and we expect to be reprimanded, ostracised for making a mistake or stepping out of line.

In a culture of ‘fear’, everyone suffers. Morale is low, information bottlenecks and performance drops.

Trust = high performing teams

I’ve seen healthy teams at work and each has had a culture of safety.

How is your team working at the moment? More to the point, how do you feel at work?

At the start of this article I asked you to think about the times you’ve performed at your best and your worst. Could the difference lie in the environment the leader created?

Make no mistake…

As leader, it’s your job to create a culture of safety and you need to be trusted in your role and as part of the team. It won’t happen by itself. Yes, your team members might get along well and trust each other, but if the trust stops when you step in, your team will never achieve what it’s capable of.

It’s all very well to be admired as a leader, but to me that just means you’re out of reach. Up on a pedestal.

In my next article, I’ll touch on some of the things you can do to build a culture of safety – build trust – in your teams.

Until then, pay attention to your team dynamics. That will show where the trust lies.

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