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Designed Alliance 600 px

In a recent leadership workshop, I asked small groups to come up with suggestions for how to create psychological safety. Every group came up with one common answer that has inspired me to modify my list for leaders on how to create psychological safety. They all said that a leader should work with the group to establish guidelines or ground rules. It’s something I do at the beginning of each leadership series and an activity I have teams perform when I work with organizations.

People work together in groups better when they establish a clear set of behavior guidelines. In systems coaching, we call the guidelines a Designed Alliance. It’s an agreement between all group members about how they want to interact and solve problems. A Designed Alliance can help a group consciously create the culture that they want. In our case, we want to establish group norms that encourage behavior that would encourage psychological safety.

Ground rules created by the leader of the group that are then handed down as mandates are not that effective. The group has not explicitly agreed to abide by the rules. Also, it is then the leader’s responsibility to enforce the rules. The group has little buy-in around rules that they didn’t have a part in creating.

It’s more effective for the group to design an alliance together. The group establishes clear guidelines for acceptable behavior and agrees to follow them. The group members also agree to enforce the rules of the Designed Alliance. It’s especially important for the group to determine how it wants to deal with conflict.

Next time that I work with a team, I am going to explain Project Aristotle and the importance of psychological safety. Then, I’m going to ask them to come up with behaviors and guidelines that would help to create psychological safety for the group. Those actions will be our Designed Alliance.

If you want some suggestions for behaviors that create psychological safety, look back at the blogs that I’ve written on this topic. We’ve discussed and dissected psychological safety for 16 weeks. We’ve talked about things like trust, vulnerability, and Positive and Negative Sentiment Override. In general, any behavior that builds trust and makes us feel safe will encourage psychological safety.

A Designed Alliance is a powerful tool in creating group norms and behaviors that will support psychological safety. Thanks to my fabulous workshop participants for reminding me!

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