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

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As a team coach, you have a unique role. You have the opportunity to stimulate people to break old patterns in themselves and the group and encourage them to entrust themselves to each other. You can be the base from which this happens. Are you prepared to be that foundation from which the team can develop?

Attachment: learning to trust others

In the dynamics of a team, triggers are present that confront individuals with themselves and each other.  In the encounter with others, we entrust ourselves based on how we learned to do so early in life. Initially more unconsciously with our parents or guardians, siblings, family members; then increasingly consciously with friends, classmates and colleagues. That unconscious process of learning to entrust yourself to others we refer to as the ‘attachment process’.

In group dynamics, our early and later attachment experiences are palpable and visible. The relationships between the leader and his team members are influenced by it.  When we gain insight into our attachment patterns, we are better able to understand our own behavior and that of our team members. This understanding enables team members and leaders to improve team performance.

When children grow up, they irrevocably enter into the situation where emotions are present in their head, heart and body. When they express these emotions in their interactions with their parents or caregivers, they learn that their emotions evoke a reaction. This reaction determines the beliefs they develop that their emotions are welcome or not. Is it safe to show my emotions? Or is it unsafe and do I learn to keep emotions to myself, swallow them, or rather express them in vehemence and anger?

This attachment movement affects how people navigate in individual interactions and in groups. People who are (predominantly) securely attached will contribute positively to the group process. Their ability to entrust themselves to others will positively influence the dynamics in the group because in their actions, emotions do not hinder but connect. They will be more inclined to take risks when connecting with others, which will make further growth possible.  Conversely, people who are (predominantly) insecurely attached will have more difficulty trusting the group and others in the group. In a team, fundamentally the attachment style of each individual will always be triggered. The total composition of styles in the team determines the degree to which people in the team entrust themselves to one another. (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2010).

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