How a safe environment creates trust & freedom

When people feel safe and protected by their managers and the organization, their natural reaction is to trust and cooperate. A safe environment enables freedom, a can-do-mentality and a sense of motivation. Conversely, if people feel insecure and on the defensive, they retreat and focus their energy in the wrong places. So, please make sure that nobody in your team needs to waste energy to defend themselves.

Here are some steps you can take create the most encouraging environment for your teams:

Share your values

Show who you are. My first manager shared her personal values in our very first team meeting. Even before I got to know her, it was clear to me what her motivations were and what she valued in a work environment: transparency, approachability and fairness. She also revealed personal stories underpinning these values, which made her seem authentic and created a somewhat personal bond right from the get-go.  And openness goes in both directions: Get to know your team members and their individual needs. For instance, send out questions prior to your one-to-ones to start them thinking: “What expectations do you have?” “What’s working well for you?” “What do you need?” This signals genuine interest and shows that you care – the first step towards a safe environment.

Invite discussion

You don’t always need to agree with your team members, but you should try to understand their intent. Don’t make people feel they have to hide their concerns or frustrations. Instead, prioritize time for regular one-to-one chats and encourage them to open up. Why not every now and then starting discussions around topics like, stress level and personal development plans, as well as what’s going well – and not so well – with their current projects? Colleagues who feel they can be candid will be more motivated, loyal and honest. Recognize, however, that some team members may take more time than others to feel comfortable with open, honest conversations.

Let people experiment – and fail

Encourage experimentation and, trial and error, as this provides freedom to try new things and stimulates creativity – and also may result in failures, which helps adaptive teams learn and grow. Admitting mistakes, and feeling safe to do so, can provide a powerful opportunity to learn and build trust. Mistakes happen and there is a big difference between deliberately avoiding vs. openly discussing them, because only the latter helps people learn in a productive way.

At the end of the day, it’s the conditions created by leaders like you and me that help create a safe and motivating work environment.

So, please walk the talk and remember that people are best led, not with fear, but through support and empowerment.

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