Safety First

What makes a group highly successful?


Daniel Coyle in his book, 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 identify. 
  • 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 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, we are firmly connect.


When people feel safe to interact, a subtle pattern of small behaviors emerge that create the fabric of high performing groups.  


These 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 and high functioning or low functioning?
  • What could you do to help encourage and increase these types of connecting behaviors? 

Download your worksheet below. 


Kids Talk For School Leaders

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