Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: August 21, 2023 Ask ACE

Ask ACE: How can I be sure my team brings problems to me early, instead of when it’s urgent?

Q: How can I be sure my team brings problems to me early, instead of when it’s urgent?

ACE advises: Problems are inevitable. Caught early, they usually remain small, and are easy to resolve. Making sure they are brought up is hard. The answer lies in “psychological safety,” an organizational principle shared across the areas of design, innovation, and learning.

Psychological safety is a shared belief that members of a team can be vulnerable without fear of negative consequences. What happens when someone admits a mistake, or a lack of understanding? What happens when someone raises a concern, or takes a risk? As a leader, it’s tempting to say that all these things are encouraged. The reality is far more nuanced.

I think about psychological safety in terms of observed patterns. What are the patterns to the team’s response to errors? Are errors highlighted and the person who made the error embarrassed? Or is the error acknowledged and discussion focused on what can be learned and how the team can adopt new practices to avoid future errors? Would someone feel safe enough to admit to an error?

Notice how those examples are framed. What matters is how people feel, not the intent of the response. Especially as business owners and leaders, we have to be mindful of the difference between our intent, and the effect we have on our team members.

Creating psychological safety in a team requires building the patterns in the organization, or the habits, that create that safety. Being purposeful about building those patterns is the first step.

Matthew Opuda owns Northstar Evolution, which works with small and growing businesses at the intersection of people, technology, and strategy. He offers individual coaching and team workshops to build new patterns in organizations large and small.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF