Circle of Safety

Picture this… you see a group of deer eating out in a field and you stop to observe them. You notice how peaceful and quiet everything is and how they don’t seem to have a care in the world. Then something startles one of them, and that one quickly raises its head up into the air. A funny thing happens after that one raises its head in the air to see what has sparked it’s curiousity, the rest of the group raises its head too. The instinct of pack animals is amazing. No form of verbal communication has to be made, if one hears it, they all react quickly after. If one senses danger and takes off running, the others don’t stick around waiting for something to happen, they are off and running too. That is the circle of safety that pack animals have, it is also something that good teams should exemplify.

If you have ever had that one member of your team that you question their intentions, you don’t share a circle of safety. If one of those animals were to wait around and see what lurks on the other side of the patch of grass it could mean the end of that animal. On your team, if you don’t have that same trust in the locker room or on the sideline, the same could be true. Only with a team, it could be even worse, it could “kill” more than just that one . It could, and more than likely will, spread through the locker room. According to Simon Sinek “danger inside a team is controllable and it should be the goal of leadership to set a culture free of danger from each other.” “Offer a strong culture of values and beliefs.” How true that is with teams.

One of my favorite cliches of all time is, “teams are only as strong as the weakest link”, but how much truth there is to that statement. If you pull on a chain, the weakest link of that chain is going to compromise the integrity of that entire chain. Only that one link will be destroyed, but the job of the entire chain has been a failure. One player who sits on the outside of a team’s circle of safety could mean the difference between success and failure.

So how do you build a strong circle of safety, and contain each team member within that boundary?

You show empathy and give the members a sense of belonging. If each member has ownership in the team, has a sense of trust in the person next to them and a sense of belonging to the team, each member is then responsible for that circle of safety. If one steps out of line, it is up to the entire team to bring them back in. The rest of the team must raise their heads from their meal, and focus their attention to getting that team member back inside the circle. If that can’t happen, that team member shouldn’t be entrusted with the title of team member.

If an outside force threatens the circle of safety, a team bands together and either falls as a team, or rises as a team. A threat will never come from the inside of a circle of safety, if you think it is coming from the inside, you never had a circle to begin with.


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