Safe-feeling teams can be brave about risk

A “good” normal

The studio where I learned to work in games was a collection of people who felt like friends. Bosses rarely did or said “boss things” and we all felt awkward when it had to happen. We all felt like our ideas were important and could impact the game, and we could all take harsh feedback without feeling personally attacked.

Creating safety

There are messages that every team needs to hear, and they’re not the ones most leads think about. Busy smart people often feel like “obvious“ messages are not worth delivering. Worse: some leads think that making people feel too safe will undermine performance evaluation and promote laziness.

But aren’t these manipulation tactics?

No. Really not. But I’m including this note because every young leader on my team has asked me this question at some point.

I f**k this up all the time here are my mistakes

I have put together a short list of my common errors which undermine psychological safety. I make mistakes all the time, and you will too… But here’s my shortlist of moments to avoid:

  • Interrupting people when you ask them for their input or their ideas. Even if you just wanted clarification, or you think they didn’t understand the question, it can send the message to people that you don’t think they have good ideas, and they will then protect themselves by becoming quiet.
  • Complaining about [thing] when someone that you don’t work closely with can hear you. People take criticism well from people they have built trust with. Not every collaborator in your team has the benefit of feeling safe with you after months of trust-building.
  • Skipping 1:1 meetings. When work gets busy my calendar is packed and my team will say “it’s okay we can sync later”… but I’m skipping opportunities to ensure my team has a voice, and this is just failure to manage time. My team deserves to know they are always important.

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Geoff Ellenor

Geoff Ellenor

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Game Director, WB Games Montréal. Video game nerd. Designer. Tech head. Views expressed here are my own.