The first steps in creating a high performing team are, look at yourself as a leader and creating psychological safety.

I am often asked by clients and leaders, how do we return to the excellence of our glory days, or how do we create high performing teams? This usually then follows with a list of all the things that people in the team or the organisation are not doing well. It might be poor service, it might be a lack of commitment to delivering for a client, it is usually about going the extra mile and taking pride in work. There is no magic bullet but there is one thing I can guarantee you, if you don’t look to change yourself and the leadership you are providing you will not change the team or organisation.

You can throw whatever band aid or management program over it that you want, at best you will get a small pick up in performance for a short period of time and then you will create a different perspective for the same problem and be on the lookout for the next program. If you want a high performing team you need to create psychological safety as your basic building block. What is likely getting in the way of having psychological safety is your leadership style and habits.

Psychological safety is about creating an environment where everyone in the team feels safe to speak up and have a view without fear of being shut down, dismissed, embarrassed or face consequences that could affect the chance of a pay increase, promotion or opportunity. It is creating trust in a team that it is ok to disagree or question anything you like. Without it, teams will not take any risks and are likely to be disengaged.

The people usually getting in the way of psychological safety in a team are the leaders. Either the leader is not aware of their own impact or the leader is not aware of other team members impact on the team. The leader may operate from a controlling style. If a leader is managing with a controlling style, they are squashing free thought and setting a scene for employees to shut up and follow the rules to be safe and you will not achieve a high performing team. It may however be more subtle, the leader may on the most part be good and have all the right intentions for a team that collaborates and provides feedback. Sometimes our intentions are one thing but our behaviour says otherwise. For example, we may get slightly defensive when a team member challenges us in front of others, we might tell jokes or laugh at jokes that in some way offend someone in the team, we might oversell change and not want to listen when our team disagrees, we might not be present in meetings or conversations, we may be a poor listener full stop, we may talk inappropriately about others in front of our team, we may be so focused on the task we need to achieve we just don’t see others properly, or maybe we reward the people that say what we want to hear.

A good way to check on your team’s psychological safety is to be quiet in your next few team meetings and notice who speaks and if they play it safe or take risks. Is anyone in the team shutting down others? How does your team respond to mistakes? Is everyone equal to contribute? Be curious about how the team operates.

If you suspect that your team does not have psychological safety, make it a focus. Be clear with the team that you want the team to feel safe to say whatever they like, and you need their opinions and contributions to be successful as a team. Change your language when something goes wrong, instead of being disappointed or frustrated try being curious. Practice being present and listening when your team speak so they know you value their contribution. Thank them for their input. Bring problems to meetings so you can work as a group to solve them rather than coming with a solution and telling them what to do. Focus on collaboration. Get your team practicing talking by giving everyone a role to talk in meetings and be positive when they do. Reward courage and contribution.