We all know that today’s business world is fast-paced and dynamic. In order to drive innovation, solve complex problems and achieve organizational goals, we have shifted from silo-thinking to building cross-functional teams. As a leader of a cross-functional team, it is crucial to create a safe environment for team members.
This means they can share their ideas without fear of judgment, collaborate effectively and feel motivated to contribute their best efforts. This post will take a look at several steps you can take to create such an environment and nurture a culture of resilience and growth. Let’s take a look at them.
The importance of resilience
Both the individuals and the team as a whole need to be resilient in order to tackle ambiguous and complex environments. Team resilience provides a great foundation for experimentation and innovative solutions, allowing the group to step out of their comfort zones. To achieve this resilience, though, a culture that embraces failure as an opportunity for growth and learning needs to be established. A resilient team perseveres through challenges and remains solution-focused even in uncertain times, ensuring steady progress towards their goals.
How to create a safe environment
Setting clear goals and a shared vision
A strong foundation for a cross-functional team is a shared vision that everyone feels connected to and believes in. To create a sense of ownership and belonging, it’s important to include team members in the process of brainstorming and shaping the vision, mission and values.
In order for this shared vision to act as a guiding light, you have to make sure that every team member truly understands the goal and the path to reach it. Only through shared understanding can the vision become a focus for the team’s collaboration.
Additionally, you have to ensure that the goal is actually achievable. While ambitious goals can be motivating and push people to greater heights, unattainable goals have the opposite effect. A good approach here is to set SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Trackable – which help you stay realistic and create a transparent and clear objective. When team members have a clear understanding of what they need to accomplish and can measure their progress, they are more likely to believe in the success of the project and stay motivated throughout its duration.
Personalized and positive leadership
- Understanding individual needs and strengths
If you want to foster an emotionally safe environment as a leader, then you have to take the time to understand each team member on an individual level. You should gain insights ranging from their wants, needs, strengths and weaknesses, to their goals and boundaries. As a result, you will be able to help each team member tap into their strengths and ultimately help them achieve a sense of accomplishment. At the same time, you’ll be able to avoid allocating tasks that they find demotivating, which can help prevent burnout and disengagement.
Of course, during the actual day-to-day it’s not possible to exclusively assign tasks that align with the individual goal. Sometimes a task has to be done, even when no one is eager to tackle it. Equally, some weaknesses have to be improved, which can’t be resolved by avoiding them. By understanding people on a personal level, you can strike the right balance between building upon their strengths, working on their weaknesses and making sure everyone can do what they enjoy as much as possible. After all, one person’s horror task could be delightful for someone else on your team.
- Positive reinforcement and recognition
Positive reinforcement plays a significant role in creating a motivating and safe environment within a cross-functional team. Verbal recognition, bonuses, promotions, and other rewards show team members that their efforts and contributions are valued and appreciated. Overall, actively listening and recognizing efforts and contributions will greatly motivate your team to come up with ideas and bring their best self to work every day. As a result, you will be able to create a positive atmosphere and even encourage collaboration and innovation within the team.
With positive reinforcement, it’s also important to take the cultural background of each team member into consideration, especially when you are leading an international team. It’s helpful to consider Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, which highlights cultural differences between countries.
For example, in a more individualist country, like the USA, it’s very important to highlight an individual’s contributions, perhaps even publicly. In more collectivist countries, such as Japan, the group’s success is generally seen as more important and should be recognised as such. . In international teams, it’s important to strike a balance between the two to ensure that each individual is valued in a way that they can recognize from a cultural perspective. Of course, this framework is a generalization. However, it provides a good starting point to enact effective positive reinforcement and recognition.
Open and transparent communication
Fostering open communication and transparency
Another essential aspect of creating a safe environment is fostering open communication and transparency. As a leader, you must demonstrate an open mindset and actively listen to ideas and concerns without preemptive judgment. Allowing team members to freely express their thoughts and opinions without fear of criticism creates a culture of psychological safety, where individuals feel comfortable sharing their ideas and perspectives.
Regular team meetings, well prepared 1-on-1 feedback sessions, and personal development chats further emphasize the importance of open communication within the team. Constructive feedback should flow both ways – from you to your team members and vice versa. It is crucial for you to be approachable and receptive to feedback, as this builds trust and strengthens the team’s bond.
Open communication, recognition and individual support is also the best way to keep your team motivated and prevent quiet quitting.
Early conflict resolution
Recognizing and addressing conflicts within the team early on is vital to maintaining a safe and productive environment. It is crucial to be proactive in addressing conflicts to avoid tension, division and an overall sense of unsafety among team members.
Depending on the situation you should get involved to a different degree. When team members cannot resolve conflict on their own, you should step up and take care of the conflict, while acting as a mediator between the two parties.
However, you should highly encourage team members to engage in open communication and conflict resolution by themselves. You ultimately want to avoid a backstabbing culture, in which conflicts are not addressed by the involved parties and this leads to gossip and frequent escalations to leadership. If leadership allows this to happen, and in the worst case, the person that did not initially come forward is scrutinized, it is likely that a political environment will occur in which people are able to “outplay” their team members in order to gain favor and put someone else down. This, of course, is highly toxic and creates an emotionally unsafe environment.
When someone comes forward to you to escalate an issue, one of the first questions should be whether they have addressed this issue with the other party first and, if not, why? If they haven’t addressed it and the issue is not one that requires immediate action, like abuse or sexual harassment, then you should first strongly encourage them to bring the issue forward with the other party. This could potentially provide the employee with helpful resources for handling future disagreements. If someone constantly skips conflict resolution and instead escalates issues immediately to other team members and you, they are engaging in behavior that risks the team’s overall health and you should tread with caution, while uncovering the actual underlying issues.
It’s not easy to create a safe environment. You need to take a multifaceted approach. Set clear goals, create a shared understanding of them, foster open communication, recognize everyone’s individual strengths and contributions, all while ensuring that conflicts are addressed as early as possible. All of this requires a great deal of empathy and communicative abilities. However, if you want to create a truly resilient team, then you’ll have to walk the extra mile.
There are some fantastic upsides to putting this effort in., You can maximize your team’s long term productivity, creativity and innovation, while also keeping everyone motivated, happy and preventing quiet quitting.