This is a guest post by Maxine Attong author of Lead Your Team to Win: Achieve Optimal Performance By Providing A Safe Space For Employees.

Getting your people to contribute more to your organization while simultaneously establishing stronger talent retention must cost a pretty penny, right? Not really. You don’t necessarily need to add expensive new ingredients to the stew. You just have to know how to use your ingredients better.

A talented chef – or in this case, corporate or organizational leader – knows how to let an ingredient speak for itself, perhaps with just a touch of seasoning or guidance.

What is the guidance? Competition or incentives, such as bonuses? Not exactly. Most employees want to have more input. However, personal issues, fear of being laughed at, or anxiety of not getting credit can stymie contributions from staff.

If you can engender a real sense of trust, the organization will benefit both from the individual and the team’s ingenuity. A reliable way of establishing a trusting climate is to make team members feel safe. Here are five steps for doing so:

1. Share responsibility; practice “I” statements. With openness, encourage interaction by having team members enforce the rules and monitor the use of common space. When members break the rules, the entire team should discuss the problem and agree on the sanctions and steps necessary to assist the member in following the rules next time. Discourage everyone from using the word “you.” Instead, use “I.” That simple yet effective practice encourages personal culpability and discourages blame.

2. Consistency. Teams need to consistently follow the agreed-upon rules as they set the boundaries and the tone for relationships. Following the rules makes the behavior in the space predictable, which limits uncertainty and increases feelings of safety. Consistently apply the rules to increase trust among the team. As the behavior becomes prescriptive and members know what will happen in the room and how they will be treated, that trust blossoms.

3. Judgment. Team members must feel that they are not being judged. If someone says that an idea is bad, the speaker will shut down and feel embarrassed. Going forward, that speaker will hesitate to give ideas because he or she feels his or her ideas may not be good enough for the team. Less confident team members may refrain from presenting ideas if they are uncertain of the quality of the ideas. However, many ideas that may seem strange or unorthodox at first can wind up being some of the best.

4. Good intentions. Not all team members are effective communicators so it may be difficult for some people to frame and express their thoughts. I assume all team members have good intentions and want a positive outcome. Even though what I am hearing may be contrary to that assumption, I hold on to the thought so that I am able to fully understand what the member is saying before I react.

When listening, delay having a reaction and take time to assess the situation before responding. When you emotionally detach from the situation, you can then ask questions to clarify the situation.

5. Norming. By this point, team members seem to embrace each other and there is a spirit of togetherness. However, that doesn’t mean that your team has normed and that each team member makes decisions that advance the goals of the team. It means that the safe space concept has allowed them to see each other in a more neutral light and accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses. While the space may act as an accelerator or catalyst for the team to norm, it is not magic. It does not mean that whatever problems existed within the team before have miraculously disappeared. Pay attention and check the team temperature, and hold regular meetings and team-building sessions to keep the team connected. 

Maxine Attong has been leading small and large teams for the past two decades, both in organizational settings and in her private coaching and facilitation practice. She has helped organizations come to consensus, overcome the perils of ineffective leadership, redesign processes to suit changing environments, and manage the internal chaos inherent in strategy implementation. She has been trained as a Gestalt Organizational Development practitioner, a Certified Evidence-Based Coach, a Certified Professional Facilitator, a Certified Management Accountant and is a former Quality Manager. 

Photo Credit: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/team-1493923

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  1. Well written, excellent piece! As a talented chef myself, I enjoy trying to mix and match the right ingredients when trying to mix the “people stew” as I like to put it. A piece of this and dash of that make for a delicious team environment..

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