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Creating Psychological Safety in Teams





It is now well established that creating 'psychological safety' in teams is an absolute must if you are to ensure that your team is gong to be both motivated and productive. Psychological safety is simply that 'state' in which individual team members feel included, listened to, and feel that they have the ability and confidence to highlight not only their hopes and ideas but also their fears and concerns. If team members don't feel this then, simply put, you do not have a team. And certainly not one that will be motivated and one which will hit its goals and fulfil its purpose.


Psychological safety is strongly linked to motivation, and motivation is a subject that is constantly on the lips of team managers and team members. It is a subject that usually confuses more than enlightens when discussed at any length.


Traditional theories such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Hertzberg’s Hygiene Factors Model or McGregor’s X & Y theory are regularly trotted out to explain what motivates individuals. Many people finding these interesting but potentially baffling in terms of what it means for them in their place of work or how these theories relate to their peers, stakeholders and indeed, customers.


Several years ago I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Great Britain Olympic athlete, Brian Whittle and Brian introduced me to a simple model of motivation entitled the 'Motivational Triangle' where the model stipulated that there were three distinct motivators that humans needed addressed before they would be motivated.


  • Understanding and Being Understood

  • Freedom to Choose

  • Feeling Valued.


In this short article I would like to further explain this powerful model in a form I have developed further called “Diamond Motivation™” which adds a fourth dimension to Brian’s model. This model can be used for both individual and team development and can also be used as a framework for organisations when attempting to create a ‘culture of empowerment’. Using this model can assist team managers to improve the motivation in their teams and also create the all important psychological safety.


Let us look at how this simple model of motivation applies to enabling team managers to support their team members and for team members to use it to be self-motivated.


Clarity and Understanding.


It is vital for any team member to have clarity in what their role is and what their performance measures and targets are. It is also vital that team members know the expectations, rules and regulations within which they are expected to operate. Without this clarity the team member will be confused and de-motivated. Team Managers should always ensure that team members have 100% clarity in the following areas, 100% of the time!


□ Clear and concise description of their role and responsibilities within the team.

□ Individual SMART objectives

□ Clarity in relation to how best they are going to achieve the objectives and what support is available from the team manager.

□ An excellent understanding of company and team goals and how their objectives link to the overall aims and goals of the team.

□ A full knowledge and understanding of company procedures and policies and the decision making process.

□ A full understanding and commitment to the team contract.

□ An understanding of how best the Team manager: Team member relationship is going to work for both parties.


Expressing Opinions, Hopes, Fears, ideas and Concerns.


The second aspect to ‘Diamond Motivation™’ is that humans need to express themselves. If they are dictated to, then, not only do they feel under-valued, they feel frustrated in that they are not offered the opportunity to outline their hopes and concerns.


Team Managers should always ensure open two-way communication and be excellent listeners. A healthy balance of being directive and of ‘playing the coach’ should be aimed for so that the correct developmental approach is taken at the right time and situation. Taking a coaching approach will ensure that employees are given opportunity to convey their feelings, hopes, concerns and ideas and team managers should always attempt to ensure that situations are created where employee views are aired and heard. Simply being the ‘directive’ team manager is fraught with danger in that this approach can severely restrict and impact negatively this aspect of ‘Diamond Motivation™’


Having a Choice in Decisions.


People have to be in a position to make choices. Some people need a lot of scope in this area; others only a little. But choices must be offered and created and the best way to do this is for the team manager to coach effectively whereby the team member comes up with their own solutions and ways to implement the solution. Even in the most compliant of environments there is always room for an individual team member coming up with their own solutions. Simply telling team members what to do and how to do it can have little effect, apart from perhaps, a negative effect. There is definitely a place for direction (e.g. someone who is new to a role and the skills & knowledge needed within it) but overall being directive doesn't always work with team members.


Team Managers should also look to create focus groups of problem-solving groups to enable team members to look closely at workplace challenges and come up with their own recommendations. This can go some way to satisfying the human need to have choice.



Feeling Valued and Recognised.


There are some extremely simple ways to make someone feel valued. It is as simple as saying ‘thank you and ‘well done’. It is also very powerful to simply listen and understand someone and this process alone is a sure way of making someone feel valued. And so, it is with team members. Listen to them, understand their needs, support them to make decisions (in and thank them for their effort and expertise in the workplace. Simple.


Why is it that so many team managers severely limit praise but immediately focus in on mistakes? This has to change if we are to be in a position to make full use of ‘Diamond Motivation™’




Motivation is key in everything we do. Maslow’s Needs and the other motivational theories are useful, but “Diamond Motivation™” simplifies the mystique and takes motivation to a personal level which is easy to understand and apply. If, as a team manager, or leader, you can apply the model to create a motivational environment you will also create the essential psychological safety that all teams need in order to operate effectively.


Our 'Resilient PARTNERS' team development programme is designed to assist all teams becoming resilient and high performing. Contact me through LinkedIn or via email at allan@resilientpartners.co.uk . Alternatively call me on ++ 44 (0) 776 416 8989. You can also contact Emma at emma@resilientpartners.co.uk if you are interested in doing the WRAW Resilience Assessments.

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