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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When caring and daring are not sufficiently balanced, team performance will suffer. Instead of excelling, the team, or individual team members, will enter into a mindset of avoidance, withdrawal or domination. They do this to keep themselves afloat in a setting where insecurity is present. It is up to the team coach to make the team members aware of which mindset they are inclined to adopt and which behavior they are inclined to exhibit when they and the team are confronted with change – and possibly additional high pressure. The team coach forms a bed in which he mirrors the behavior of team members. He facilitates self-examination of patterns. Because of this, people feel encouraged and challenged to experiment with different behavior.

With Madeleine and the team, Peter works with the team lifeline. An instrument that visualizes which impactful moments the individual team members have experienced since they joined the group and how these experiences influence their actions. By discussing it with each other, it becomes clear that much of the insecurity in the group is caused by the sudden disappearance of the previous manager who became ill. It was never really discussed in the group.

The conditions for psychological safety

Psychological safety is a term that is widely used in the modern counseling literature, but one that has old roots. In the 1960s, Edgar Schein and Warren Bennis (Schein, Bennis 1965) published evidence of this phenomenon in their research on people’s fear of (organizational) change. In the 1990s, Amy Edmondson (Edmondson 2018) built upon this with a study regarding medical malpractice in hospitals. The key discovery she made was that successful (read: effective) teams made more mistakes than teams that performed less, were less effective, and were less likely to achieve set goals.

Making mistakes contributes to success. However, it is not making mistakes itself that brings success, but learning from those mistakes together. Being able to enter into dialogue with each other to examine what happened that caused it to go wrong and what you can jointly do differently in the future. This requires psychological safety within the team, where people can trust that they can say everything that needs to be said, without being judged for it.
The secure base coach can help to create this bedding from which both the individual and the group are able to embrace the experience, as it were, and weave it into their operations.

As a team coach, we have the important task of enabling teams to have a dialogue in safety about the desired change and how it will come about on an individual and team level (Van Wielink, Fiddelaers-Jaspers, Wilhelm 2020). To have this dialogue with each other, a few conditions are important, as Brené Brown also describes in her book Dare to Lead (Brown 2019).

  1. Trust

First, team members need to feel like they can count on each other when it matters. When the pressure is on, are we there for each other? Do we judge each other for mistakes made or do we learn from the situation together? The reaction displayed by individuals – almost instinctively – when the pressure increases is linked to their early attachment patterns. Was he allowed to make mistakes in the past? How did his environment react then? Were the emotions he felt himself allowed to be there? Was learning paramount or were mistakes simply not accepted?

  1. Clear roles

To experience safety, it must be clear what roles there are, who does what, what responsibilities are involved and what goals the team is pursuing. This clarity provides structure, structure provides predictability, and this provides a sense of security. The leader or supervisor of the team must initiate and maintain the dialogue about this. Are we having the right conversation about these aspects of collaboration? Can we boldly exchange thoughts with each other about the different perspectives that live in our team? Do we dare to let the voice of the minority be heard?

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