December 15, 2014

Encouraging Participation in Teams

How leadership can ensure psychological safety for team success

Optimal participation in team-working occurs where team members contribute, to the best of their abilities and with confidence, to mutually-recognised goals.

Success in team-working centres on achieving team goals and on these achievements being recognised by the team leader and the organisation.

Participation is therefore crucial for ensuring team success as it helps to maximise the contribution of each individual in achieving team and organisational goals.

Recognising poor participation

Participation is often taken for granted by team leaders and many teams lack optimal or even adequate levels of participation. Symptoms of poor participation by individual team members include not voicing opinions at meetings, withholding good ideas, telling the leader what they think the leader wants to hear and even low confidence.

These symptoms will adversely affect a team’s chances of being effective and of successfully achieving team goals.

Symptoms of poor participation can easily go un-noticed but nonetheless represent a failure of leadership if they are not recognised and acted on.

Building a safe psychological environment

Team members can have many inhibitions and concerns about sharing and participating. A team leader must be aware of this in order to create a safe psychological environment in which true participation can be realised.

In establishing a safe psychological environment a leader should demonstrate humility by acknowledging his/her own lack of knowledge on some issues and by asking thoughtful questions about challenges that face the team.

On this issue a leader should ‘lead from in-front’ by living the behaviours s/he is promoting and by demonstrating those behaviours consistently in order that others might follow and feel safe in adopting these behaviours themselves.

The benefits of psychological safety

A leader who conveys an awareness of his/her own fallibility makes others feel safe in doing so as well. It helps remove the fear that a team member might have of appearing stupid if they voice an opinion.

A safe psychological environment builds trust among team members, improves communication and, most importantly, ensures that the leader hears what needs to be heard and not just want s/he wants to hear.

Team members’ confidence grows and their sense of value increases as they develop awareness of how much they can contribute to the team. The resulting sense of inclusion and cohesiveness encourages a ‘team spirit’ while bolstering individual commitment to the team and its goals.

Leadership and participation

Participation is a vital ingredient in effective teamwork and for a team to successfully achieve its goals. Problems relating to collaboration, communication and—ultimately—productivity can quickly develop as the subtle symptoms of poor participation are overlooked.

Identifying these symptoms and addressing them effectively requires finely-honed leadership skills. For participation to thrive, team members require a psychologically safe environment.

Creating an environment of psychological safety in which participation can truly be realised demands self-awareness, commitment and hard work from the team leader. In such an environment, the benefits of participation are rewarded not only in the successful achievement of goals but in increased learning, creativity and commitment.

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