Home Concepts Strategy Coaching with Groups and Teams Helping teams excel – Influence of attachment and psychological safety on team performance

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

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  1. How do I see myself and others?

An individual’s self-image is based on the direct and indirect messages that a person – since birth – receives about himself from his environment. The interpretation of these messages determines how a person sees himself and how he, to a greater or lesser extent, entrusts himself to others. The degree of entrustment subsequently determines how he behaves, also in a group. People who are predominantly insecurely attached with insufficient boundaries often have low or negative self-esteem and feel they have little control over how relationships unfold. This usually keeps them from making (deep, emotional) connections, for fear of being abandoned if they do. In a team, people with this kind of attachment style will tend to maintain good contact with everyone and, above all, not do things that put pressure on the partnership. On the other hand, people who have a predominantly insecure attachment style with excessive boundaries do not have a negative view of themselves so much as they have a negative view of others. They do not trust others because they are convinced that they will prove to be either emotionally unavailable or unreliable. They tend to keep others (emotionally) at a distance or stay at a distance themselves. In a team, these people focus on achieving the objectives set and establish relationships only where they are functional in achieving those objectives.

  1. What are my experiences in groups?

We move in different groups throughout our lives. Our family of origin, our class, our sports team, our year club, and the team at work are just a few examples. The experiences we have in those groups largely determine how we move in other groups as well. Did I feel welcome in the group? What was my start in this group like? Did I feel supported when I or the group faced adversity? What did I learn in each group about vulnerability and emotions? People with predominantly insecure attachment with too little delineation tend to remember – also with respect to groups – mainly negative and painful experiences and let these guide their actions in relation to individual group mates and the group as a whole. People with an insecure attachment style that is predominantly characterized by too much separation are more likely to suppress such negative and sometimes painful memories and experiences. They will focus primarily on the goals that have been set rather than on social interaction with others. In contrast, those who experience attachment with too little delineation will be primarily concerned with keeping social relationships ‘whole’ and will do everything possible, so to speak, to avoid creating new, painful or negative social experiences. Neither one nor the other reaction contributes to a culture of excellence; a culture in which people encourage and challenge each other from a position of safety to learn from mistakes made and try new things (Van Wielink & Wilhelm, 2019). An orientation on merely achieving goals leads to dominance, performance drive and loss of the human touch. An orientation that is mainly aimed at keeping the mutual bond good leads to resignation and a wait-and-see attitude towards each other and the manager.

3.What do I expect from social interaction?

We are not always aware of it, but our interaction with others serves a purpose. Depending on the way we are fundamentally attached, we either seek affirmation, support, safety, appreciation and love in our contact with others (in the case of insecure attachment with insufficient boundaries) or we actually aim to use interaction with others to increase our individuality and our own fortitude by keeping ourselves and others emotionally at a distance (in the case of excessive boundaries). Our interaction is then functional and aimed at achieving an objective rather than at strengthening the contact and deepening the emotional bond. Thus, people in a team very often turn out to be quite pragmatic in their response to and cooperation with each other. The basic pattern from the way people have learned to attach and entrust themselves to others remains in place, but the individual objective that someone has in mind or the shared objective of the group has a significant influence on the final attachment movement that someone makes.

  1. Which strategies do I apply?

The way we are attached influences the focus we have in interacting and working with others. When our expectations are focused on experiencing support, safety, appreciation, and love, we will seek closeness in interactions with others, make emphatic contact, and try to keep relationships “whole” (even at our own expense) thereby avoiding conflict necessary to grow as a team. On the other hand, when our expectations are much more focused on keeping our distance and not undermining our own fortitude or sense of self more than necessary, then we will be less focused on connecting with others and more likely to be goal-oriented and ensure that the tasks we have set ourselves as a group are met.

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