• Subha

Tearing down the psychological barriers to great team performance

We’ve all seen it: The star performer flags when made a part of a team he/she doesn’t really feel like a part of. Rivalries may surface. People may get rubbed the wrong way. The team lead may occasionally feel like a monitor minding the class. Ergo, the collective performance level tanks.

Tearing down the psychological barriers to great team performance

Often, individual contributors who are in their element while flying solo may face a scenario where their achievements have landed them a spot on the A-team, only to find that it’s a dog-eat-dog world in there. More vocal, dominant members may chomp away at others’ air time. It would appear that they are the only ones doing all the work, and the others are dragging their feet.


Alternatively, there is a collective lack of clarity on how to proceed on a certain endeavour. With everybody equally clueless, and unwilling to step out on a limb and actually ask, the situation gets even more muddled, leading to loss of valuable time and resources.


Another reason for flagging team performance could be a lack of “psychological safety.” Not feeling secure enough to voice one’s ideas to the greater team, or not trusting the team to hold up their end of the deal. Psychological safety is akin to a “shared belief that it is safe to take interpersonal risks as a group.” It is the confidence to air issues about team dynamics without fear of ruffling feathers, the gumption to float creative ideas without hesitation because you know they will not be shot down.


Where trust is the feeling between two people, psychological safety focuses on interpersonal trust within the whole group.


How to build psychological safety and boost team productivity


As a team leader, manager or supervisor, being aware of team members’ interpersonal dynamic is crucial to getting them to work well together, and take risks together. In other words, develop your Spidey Sense and be tuned in at all times, to nip negativity and conflicts in the bud.


Actively listen and engage team members. This is especially important in a start-up kind of environment where innovation and agility make all the difference in rapidly taking a product to market. Behavioural assessments could also be conducted within the team to boost self-awareness and actively look for solutions that work for everyone.


Be open to feedback and incorporate it wherever possible. Talk to your team members as individuals and understand their unique psychological needs. This could range from how they want to be briefed or corrected, how often they like the manager to check in on them, how much autonomy will make them blossom, and so on. Once they feel understood both by the supervisor and their teammates, their psychological safety level goes up.

  • Give team members ownership over their tasks. Value each team member’s contribution.

  • Clarity in communications is a must; no team member should be uncertain of their role, intellectually isolated, or overlooked.

  • Support your team psychologically and be their cheerleader and champion. Let them know that you have their back at all times.

  • Last but not least, make room for fun! Collective downtime and activities everyone can enjoy are the lifeblood of vibrant teams.

  • Create an environment where everyone looks forward to coming to work every single day!



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