Tara Powers of Powers Resource Center
28 Apr 2023

Top Five Ways Companies Can Focus on Psychological Safety with Teams

In 2020 when the pandemic hit, office life suddenly disappeared, and teams had to stumble their way into working remotely. Now, three years later, many executives are demanding a return to the office, fearing a lag in productivity, creativity, and team cohesiveness and a desire to return to the old ways of top-down directives.

But employees are far from being on the same page, and research has confirmed that returning to the former pre-pandemic status quo is not the healthiest way to build a strong and productive team.

"He Said, She Said" and Team Dysfunction

According to a Fall 2022 Future Forum Pulse, there is a large gap between leadership and team members’ desire to return to the office. Twenty-five percent of executive leaders surveyed claimed “team culture is negatively impacted” as the number one reason they no longer wanted to offer schedule flexibility and remote work. Between August 2021 and August 2022, executive leaders reported 40% more work stress and anxiety and a 15% decline in satisfaction in their working environment.

But remote and hybrid workers showed a 52% higher likelihood of saying their company culture has improved over the past two years, with flexible work policies being the number one reason for that improvement. And, workers with schedule flexibility are 26% less likely to be burned out and report more than five times greater ability to manage work-related stress.

When leadership and team members are not on the same page, this leads to team dysfunction. Leadership that operates from a place of fear instead of cohesion, can foster an environment of team members becoming disengaged, burnt out, and lacking trust in their leaders. Patrick Lencioni has identified the principal dysfunctions of a team in his New York Times bestselling book Five Dysfunctions of a Team Training Workshop. These dysfunctions are:

  1. Absence of Trust - unwillingness to be vulnerable about mistakes and weaknesses
  2. Fear of Conflict - unwillingness to engage in an unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas
  3. Lack of commitment - little buy-in for decisions that are caused by a lack of open communication of opinions
  4. Avoidance of Accountability - most focused and driven people won’t call out peers on counterproductive actions and behaviors  without committing to a clear plan of action
  5. Inattention to results - the collective goals of the team are subordinated when team members put their individual needs first

So, how can leaders bridge these gaps and bring their teams together in a psychologically safe way where there is both team satisfaction, increased productivity, and team cohesion?

A good assessment-based team-building workshop is the answer. One that helps individuals and teams understand what is needed to build psychological safety. That is, to build a cohesive and effective team and work with individual personalities and preferences. Teams that especially learn the five ways to create psychological safety within teams and varied work environments become able to bridge that dysfunction gap and come together. 

These foundational psychological components are:

1.  Learning to trust each other

Team members feel heard on their needs and desires, when leaders trust their employees to get their jobs done by offering flexibility, without top-down micromanagement. By leading with trust, leaders are reducing burnout and increasing employee engagement and loyalty. Workshops that lead your team through identifying trust-related behaviors through assessments and trust-building exercises and action planning are a good choice.

2.  Engaging in productive conflict 

If there is no space to disagree and have conflicting ideas, creativity wanes, and team trust further erodes. A good team training workshop will have teams and leaders learn to identify conflict-related behaviors and work with a team conflict map to understand healthy and unhealthy behaviors during conflict. 

3.  Committing to decisions and actions

When there is buy-in to decisions made and actions taken, team members are invested in the outcomes. From a workshop assessment, teams will review the team’s commitment scores, and develop behavioral ground rules specific to their team needs to help foster commitment. 

4.  Holding each other accountable

When teams aren’t holding one another accountable, tensions and distrust can build which can result in resentment, unfair workloads, confusion around expectations, and a breakdown of team trust. The ability to feel comfortable holding team members accountable is built on trust, healthy conflict management, and agreed-upon decisions and actions. In a productive workshop, teams will identify the importance of accountability in their team and create an action plan to improve overall accountability.

5.  Focusing on the achievement of collective results

If team results are secondary to individual results, then team effectiveness breaks down. Teams that are fulfilled and engaged focus on collective results and achieving those results together. In a workshop, team members can participate in a team scoreboard activity, in which they learn about and then create a tool to help them track progress toward their goals. They review the team assessment and create an action plan to achieve team goals.

We live now in a new workplace model, one that requires more team cohesiveness while managing physical distance in the hybrid remote work environment. As trust gaps widen, we see that old techniques of management are no longer effective.

Leaders need to feel connected to their teams and trust in their employees, and team members need to have more flexibility and trust from their leaders. This doesn’t happen without new models of team building and production.  Tools and knowledge are needed to bridge this gap to create a space of psychological safety for all team members. 

Ready to give up on remote working?

Time to rebuild your team's dynamic. Powers Resource Center can help.

Learn more about the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team Training Workshop

Last updated: 28 Apr 2023
Tara Powers
CEO, Powers Resource Center

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