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Is Your Team Safe?

Is Your Team Safe?

Have you ever hid behind policies and rules instead of taking the steps you knew were right to correct a mistake or make a customer truly satisfied?

A lot of us live and work in cultures that have reduced our capacity to take chances, often in the name of standardization. Many organizations do not trust their employees or team members enough to make decisions. The result of not knowing how to trust employees or team members is the many policy books and procedure manuals that managers have to follow. Managers follow these rules because they are often afraid of what will happen to them if they take a chance and that action does not work out.

I love small and new businesses. One reason I love them is they are in a position to be brave enough to create cultures where their employees can be part of a real team. A team where the members are allowed and even encouraged to make non-fatal errors and brush off the mistake, or are coached so they learn and develop personally and professionally.

On a sports team, it is rare that a person who makes a mistake in the context of a game is benched for the rest of the game or thrown off the team the next day. If the player makes a series of mistakes, they might be taken out of the game but they are seldom disciplined if they are truly putting forth effort. Instead, the coaches make every effort to correct the mistakes and help that person become better at their position.

The same philosophy should be adopted by the smart business owner and team leader. Often, you picked your team when you hired them. You are the one who saw their talent and ability and thought they would be a good asset to your organization. Why then would you want to make your team be afraid to take chances, to think outside the box when you have given them direction on what the goal is?

The smart team leader will develop a team that trusts each other by:

  • Knowing your job is to coach your team and let them execute. George Patton has a great quote about this philosophy and that is, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” Part of your team’s ingenuity is going to be trial and error. If you react too negatively to the error part, you will never see the ingenuity that they can bring to your team.


  • Remember the four P’s. I learned very early about the four P’s and although I have never been perfect in their practice, I have always tried to keep them in mind. The four P’s are – Praise in Public, Punish in Private. Some people may not like the word “punish” so use whatever word you want there. If you want to use the word discipline, coach or another word, you get the point. Coming down on individuals in front of the team reduces the respect they have with their other team members and sends a negative message about how you handle mistakes.


  • Let them know you have their back. When someone from outside your group calls out a member of your team or if your whole team is threatened, stand and fight for them. I love this quote from Teddy Roosevelt, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” If you team knows that you have their back, you will find out just how much they have your and your team’s back. You will start to see self-sacrifice and a willingness to push through obstacles when they know their leader will look out for them.


  • Every misstep is an opportunity to coach up. As team members stumble, the savvy leader knows that this is an opportunity to develop the individual. If your team is made up of people who never make a mistake or never fail then that is a signal that they are not developing and pushing themselves. If you never trip the bar high jumping, how do your really know how high you can jump?


Coach’s wrap up

A team cannot effectively move forward and reach their full potential if they feel they are not safe. It is in our nature to want to keep obstacles and danger in front of us so that we can be aware of the danger. As a business owner or a team leader, it is your job to make your team feel safe so that their focus is forward and they are not looking over their shoulders anticipating possible danger from their organization.


Have you ever worked in an environment where you felt that you had to watch your back constantly? How effective were you while you were on that team?


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