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Helping teams excel – Influence of attachment and psychological safety on team performance

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Team dynamics and the relationship between the leader and his team members are influenced by our early and later attachment experiences. Attachment theory and its translation into practical situations in organizations provide a very rich resource for leaders and supervisors to understand team dynamics, examine team performance, and shape change therein.

In this article Marnix Reijmerink explores the themes of attachment and psychological safety in relation to successful team development. Marnix highlights the influence of attachment on team performance. And he will show us how you, as a coach, can act as a secure base for the team and their leader(s), how you can enable people and teams to excel from a bed of psychological security, how dialogue is the most important gateway to team development, and what the power of rituals is. We are introduced to Madeleine and her team, which is supervised by team coach Peter.

When he enters the room with the manager of the finance team of a large healthcare institution, the group is already waiting. A few team members look up, others keep their eyes on their screens. “I’d like to introduce you to Peter, the team coach I told you about,” says Madeleine.

After years of experience as an executive in the banking sector, she very deliberately made the switch to healthcare. She longed to make a contribution to society. In her first week, she was welcomed with open arms. The start of the collaboration is promising. An open and inquisitive environment made Madeleine feel welcome from the outset.

In the months that follow, she notices how the team members approach her and one another with a great sense of familiarity. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. Everyone seems to share a lot about what’s on their minds professionally and personally. However, Madeleine also notices that every time she makes agreements with her colleagues, they are not kept. She is hesitant about how to broach the subject, afraid that it will be at the expense of the positive working environment. When she does bring it up, the team members promise to improve. Madeleine is reassured on the one hand, but on the other hand she feels that something is not right. And indeed: in the time that follows, nothing changes. She asks team coach Peter for help.

Peter’s curiosity is piqued. What is going on here? Why are people not honoring their commitments? Is this a safe space? Can you say you don’t know something or find something difficult? How do people challenge one another? Are they willing to engage in conflict? What role does Madeleine play in this dynamic?

 Perhaps the questions Peter asks himself are familiar to you as a team coach. The group that has its own dynamics, with its own written and unwritten rules. As a team coach, you bring yourself, your identity with associated experiences, beliefs and driving values into your coaching. In your role, you are a mirror for the group and the group for you. In that interaction, each person repeats their individual attachment patterns gained over the course of their lives. How do you recognize and acknowledge these patterns, and how do you make them the subject of research?

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