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Psychological safety and inclusion - leveraging a team’s full potential through trust and ownership

2020 has been the best example of what the term VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) can mean. More than ever, it became important to be resilient to drastic changes that can occur and able to adapt the quickest to a changing environment. 

In the last century, the companies that were the best in producing high quality products at low cost were at a competitive advantage. The org structures were divided into employees that were focused on the thinking - creating strategy - and workers that should contribute focusing on the doing. Nowadays, the competitive advantage has shifted to companies that are the fastest to adapt to new opportunities and that bounce back the quickest in case of disruption. This requires a different set-up of organizations that encourages actively every team member to contribute with their skills in both the thinking and the doing tasks. No one leader can know it all in an ever changing environment, hence, the secret recipe is to empower teams to take decisions on their own and move fast while making sure every team member has a seat at the table to contribute to a greater cause.

As Steve Jobs said “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” – everyone in the team should be a specialist in an area and can contribute their expert opinion, this is why their voices need to be heard. Taping into the knowledge of a crowd means finding a solution including diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Creating psychological safety to speak up in a team and a high level of collaboration is key for trust building to allow for every voice in the team to be heard. A team that has each other’s back and that values open feedback will be more likely to adapt to a VUCA world challenge as they can focus on possible solutions for the situation at hand instead of loosing energy on team conflicts or moments of complete freeze. 

Trust and psychological ownership does not only allow an organization to be more resilient and adaptable to change, it also is a source of employee satisfaction. “This type of ownership – called psychological ownership – is defined as the extent to which an employee feels as though their organization or their job is “theirs” (i.e., “this is MY company!”) to the point that the company becomes an important part of an employee’s self-identity. This demonstrates that simply changing the structure of a job and offering more autonomy and task identity can make a huge difference in employees’ feelings of ownership, which can ripple throughout the organization impacting things such as employee productivity and an organization’s overall financial performance” (Bullock, 2014).

Furthermore, “a team at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School has produced evidence of what many people have long suspected – happier people do a better job. Interestingly, the happy staff did not put in more hours than their unhappy colleagues to achieve their superior results. They just used their time more productively (Broom, 2019).

How can you make sure you tap into the positive effects described above? Here are some suggestions that will encourage your team members to speak up and motivate them to be at their best:

-        Let go of control: The higher you climb up in the hierarchy of an organization, the bigger the need to always have an answer might become. However, by taking over the conversation and proving everyone else that you know it all, the more you suppress innovative thinking in your team. Especially in a VUCA environment, you will not be able to have it all under control. How good is it then to know that you can rely on your team? The invested time will be worth it.

-        Show vulnerability: Let others help and support you and communicate what is on your mind.

-        Lead with intent: Encourage your team to come up with the solution and let them contribute, maybe they find an even better way to do things than the one you have imagined. Share the outcome that you would like to have achieved and let them come up with solutions how to get there. 

-        Share the WHY: Make sure you communicate clearly to ALL team members the WHY behind tasks to make them see the bigger picture. This will help them to work autonomously on their share of a project. 

-        Allow differing opinions and let the team share their thoughts: How much do you say at team meetings? Do you take up all the time and the team is just nodding to the tasks assigned? This might be a sign that you can start encouraging a dialogue to invite your team members to share their thoughts and ideas.

-        Increase autonomy: Offer learning opportunities to your team members that will move them outside of their comfort zone and allows them to learn new skills (of course you should have a conversation about this before with the person). Remove unnecessary approvals processes.

-        Create psychological safety: Make sure to value all ideas shared and do not blame or put team members on the spot. You can use Las Vegas rules for feedback conversations or invite a facilitator in to help with retrospective sessions.

-        Trust your team and prove it to them: Have their back and allow them to focus on the tasks at hand. Strong leaders enable their team to be at their best, share praise with them and take in negative feedback as a learning opportunity that can be overcome together as a team.

-        Bring in diverse perspectives: It can feel very rewarding to be strong on the acting mode and ticking things off our to do list. However, by pushing forward without including the teams input, you loose the engagement within your team. Never underestimate the value that diverse perspectives on a topic can bring to the table. If you have a team members that stays silent during team conversations you are missing out on their ideas. You can actively invite them in and ask them what they think about the currently discussed topic.

-        Value your team’s time: Try to be on time for meetings that you host, do not let your team wait or inform them as you would do with more senior colleagues in your organization. Remove bottleneck processes and enable your team to focus their time on generating value.

-        Establish a feedback culture: Feedback is essential for trust and personal growth, read more about how to give inspirational and constructive feedback in this article.

-        Watch your language: Are you using verbal affirmations instead of questions?

Are you inviting everyone in to the table or are you excluding minorities or parts of your team by using language that was shaped by an industrial era past? You can start by replacing ‘guys’ with ‘folks’, inform yourself how you can replace exclusive terms by a new vocabulary – just google ‘inclusive language’.

-        Role model a growth mindset: Believing in people’ ability to learn and develop and supporting them to become the best version of themselves will be a necessity to live trust and ownership. 

Trust and ownership are the underlying factors to enable a high performing team that values diversity and truly lives inclusion. Becoming better in using the full potential of a team is a journey. However, a journey that is essential to thrive in a VUCA environment.


  • Broom, 2019: Happy workers are more productive, research shows:, extracted on August 8th, 2020. 

  • Jobs, 2011: His own words and wisdom.

  • Bullock, 2014: Motivating employees has everything to do with giving them feelings of ownership:, extracted on August 8th 2020.

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