Safety First

Written by Maren Schmidt on August 01, 2018
Safety first

What makes a group highly successful?

Daniel Coyle in his book, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, tells us that there are three key skills that leaders use to build cohesive, high functioning organizations.

The first is to build safety.  When we create a safe environment, people connect and create bonds of belonging along with a group identity.

Second, we need to share vulnerability.  When we express our organization’s true needs with clarity and urgency, others step forward to create an ongoing dynamic of trust and cooperation.

Third, we need to establish purpose within our organization, a place where we share goals and values.

Safety is first. 

Safety is the foundation for a strong and vibrant culture. 

Interestingly, Coyle tells us that safety builds not on abilities like intelligence, skill and experience, but within an environment that communicates to all, we are firmly connected.

When people feel safe to interact, a subtle pattern of small behaviors emerges, a pattern  that forms the fabric of high performing groups. These small behaviors include the following:

  • Close physical proximity, often in circles
  • Lots of eye contact
  • Physical touch (handshakes, fist bumps, hugs)
  • Lots of short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches)
  • High level of interaction; everyone talks to everyone
  • Few interruptions
  • Lots of questions
  • Intensive, active listening
  • Humor, laughter,
  • Small attentive courtesies (thank-yous, opening doors, etc.)

Psychological safety and a sense of belonging build on patterns of small interactions.  

Unfortunately, a sense of belonging takes time to develop and can be diminished or destroyed by negligence or due to a single incident of criticizing, condemning or complaining.

The level of a group’s performance depends on behavior that says to all involved: We are safe and connected.

Put It Into Action

Today observe in your organization for the behaviors described above. 

Which groups exhibit many of these behaviors?

Would you describe that group’s performance as high functioning or low functioning?

What could you do to help encourage and increase these types of connecting behaviors?

Download your worksheet here.

Reading Suggestion

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful GroupsChapters 1 - 6

by Daniel Coyle

Sign up here for your monthly For School Leaders newsletter

montessori parent education


Tags: leadership, school leadership tips, the culture code