Psychological safety so that teams function well

Leadership & Team

Psychological safety so that teams function well

Trust, appreciation and respect create security and contribute to the bond within a team. Especially in uncertain times, these essences are crucial so that each team member can make his or her contribution to the collective success. The Beyond Leadership approach offers a proven way to build and maintain this security.

The last few months have brought a lot of change in our private and professional lives. And at an unprecedented speed and depth. From one day to the next, drastic measures have been introduced that have affected almost all employees. While the first phase involved short-time work and home offices, in many places there have been and still are cross-industry restructurings and layoffs.

Due to the many unknowns, it is difficult to predict how the economy will develop in the future. Opinions are divided. Uncertainty is not only poison for the economy but also for the mood and performance of employees. Which statements, messages are now important and correct? The risk of spreading false hope is just as great as the risk of creating unnecessary uncertainty.

Psychological safety means that all group members share a common belief during work that the group is safe to take interpersonal risks. 
Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership at Harvard Business School

In a management workshop a few weeks ago, I experienced an exemplary example of how this can work. The two owners showed transparently what deep cuts the Corona crisis had made in the company's business performance. Afterwards, however, they unequivocally expressed the will to continue under the difficult conditions and subsequently showed how they envisioned this. Subsequently, the focus was placed on the very personal sensitivities of the executives, but also on their shared values and strengths. And concrete questions were clarified and solutions defined.

The stronger the connection within a team, the less uncertainty can arise

Especially when there is uncertainty in the environment, it is crucial to ensure communication and connection within the team. Employees perform when there is psychological security in their team. So what is psychological safety? In her book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth, Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, defines psychological safety in the workplace as follows: "Psychological safety means that all group members share a common belief during work that the group is safe to take interpersonal risks."

Or, put more simply, each team member has the security of knowing that he or she can contribute ideas, speak out openly, express criticism, and ask questions without fear of judgment, ridicule, or exclusion.

Three attributes form the prerequisite for this:


The appreciative consideration of the values of others and their appreciative acceptance. Each team member is heard and speaks equally over a period of time. Different views and opinions are mutually respected.


Reserved and unconditional belief that someone or something can be relied upon to a high degree. Each team member can contribute ideas without reservation. There is trust that they will be heard and not undermined.


The valuing of one or more human qualities. Team members are empathetic and attentive to the feelings and needs of others. Contributing and trying new things are valued and mutually encouraged.

Actually logical, but in many places still not the basis for successful cooperation. The question is, how do we succeed in anchoring this psychological security as a basis among employees?

Beyond Leadership. An approach to anchoring psychological security in companies

The model was developed by Patrick D. Cowden, ex-German CEO of Dell and ex-European CEO of Hitachi. Matthias Mölleney and Sibylle Sachs brought Beyond Leadership to Switzerland and worked it up scientifically. In the meantime, the two have written a book on the subject.

Beyond Leadership is based on an iterative process in which team members move step by step from self-awareness to collective awareness. In the process, connections with each other and a shared understanding of values are strengthened. The goal is to break down "silo and compartmentalized thinking" and to improve cooperation in the long term. The resulting high performance teams deal with each other on a human level, cooperate, communicate intensively and are honest in their dealings with each other.

The Beyond Leadership Workflow leads through the following stages:

1. Check-in: Arrive and check into the workflow

This is where the foundation is laid. Each person in the group answers in a few words the question "How am I doing and what do I want/expect from the upcoming workflow?"

2. Connect: From the "I" and the personal values and beliefs...

In this module, connections are made among team members at the very personal level. The whole group is divided into subgroups of ideally two or three people each. Each group works in parallel on the same question, which is about the very personal values, principles and beliefs on a specific topic.

3. Align: ...to the "we" and the existing commonalities

"Align", has in principle the same process as "Connect", but the question changes from "I" to "we". Here, the common values, principles and convictions shared by all are identified and recorded.

4. Imagine: Developing viable solutions together

Now, based on the shared values and motivations, answers and solutions are developed in the small groups for the specific issue of the workshop.

5. Commit: The step to successful implementation

Now it is a matter of ensuring the implementation of the jointly defined measures and performance promises and of calling on the individual dues of the members.

In the small groups, which are constantly shuffled, one person speaks at a time for a certain amount of time. The other person listens and then gives appreciative feedback. Afterwards, the roles are changed. One of the few rules of Beyond Leadership is that feedback is exclusively positive and appreciative. No negative, lecturing or proselytizing responses. Or as you hear so often, "That's very interesting though...."

After steps 2., 3., 4. and 5. a reflection takes place in the whole group.

6. Act

The development of the first measures ideally already begins during the workshop. In this way, the motivation and energy of stages one to five can be utilized. If this is not possible in terms of time, it makes sense to record the responsibilities and end dates for the specific measures. This gives the participants the security that work on the topics will continue actively.

7. Debriefing: The crucial deepening

The workshop is concluded with a special joint debriefing, in which everyone again has their say. This takes place in the plenum. Each person answers the following four questions in a few words:

What did I think was good?

What could we have done better?

What did we learn?

What can I do with it?

8. Check-out: The summary reflection

Finally, the entire team once again focuses on the Center Point and answers the question, "What did we accomplish together and how did we solve the central question?"


Beyond Leadership can be integrated into the daily work routine even after the actual workshop due to its simple and clearly understandable process. In this way, an actual "Better Together Culture" is created and issues and solutions to problems are tackled together in a goal-oriented manner.

So when it comes to raising the level of security, connection and communication in teams and companies to a sustainable level, Beyond Leadership is exactly the right approach.

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