people holding lightbulb picturesSuccessful teams have members who feel a sense of psychologicalsafety – feeling that they can take risks, innovate, share newideas.

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When it comes to workplace teams, a measure of autonomy and"psychological safety" makes all the difference, according to O.C.Tanner's 2020 Global Culture Report.

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"Leaders can nurture autonomy through a shared leadership modelwhere team members feel like they influence the work at hand," theauthors write. "In a workplace where meaningful interactions are atthe heart of the work, psychological safety becomes an abundantresource to support a thriving team."

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O.C. Tanner surveyed more than 20,000 employees across the globeand found that 37 percent of employees report having high autonomyat their organizations, 40 percent have a medium level of autonomyand 23 percent have low autonomy.

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Related: What it takes for effective leadership in today'sworkforce

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Teams that have a strong sense of autonomy and psychologicalsafety have 57 percent lower odds of moderate-to-severe burnout – but only 26 percent of employeessurveyed feel their team works together seamlessly. While 60percent say their teammates are at least somewhat respectful ofeach other, only 28 percent of teammates are willing to let otherslead a project, and only 19 percent report that their teams ensurecredit is given to deserving members.

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"When there's a strong sense of working together to achieve andinnovate, there is a 30 percent greater chance of individualemployees feeling like they have autonomy in their role," theauthors write. "Team members must also support and listen to eachother, rather than compete with one another or work in silos. Teamsthat do both well see a 33 percent and 34 percent greater chance ofhigh autonomy."

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Successful teams have members who feel a sense of psychologicalsafety – feeling that they can take risks, innovate, share newideas and be themselves without worrying about being criticized orostracized by their peers, according to the report.

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"Employees are often hesitant to bring up new or radical ideas,fearing rejection," the authors write. "This hamstringsorganizations, as a diversity of ideas and perspectives is key toteam and company success. By only allowing thoughts and ideas thatare safe or mainstream, companies miss out on a host ofopportunities for improvement and innovation."

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Autonomy is actually an antecedent to psychological safety: witha medium sense of autonomy, there is a 200 percent greater chanceof employees feeling psychologically safe. When they have highautonomy at work, the odds rise fivefold (586 percent).

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Leaders play a great role in making sure teams feel this way,according to the report.

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"Leaders who treat their team members as people, who communicateso that all members are aware of what others are working on, whofoster collaboration and encourage employees to actively contributeto each other's projects, and who support the development ofeveryone, will build teams that thrive," the authors write. "Afterall, great leaders know their teams are collectively smarter thanthem and don't always need to be told what to do. They just needguidance."

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O. C. Tanner recommends that leaders do the following to buildthriving teams: create a sense of autonomy by connecting employees;foster transparency, openness and team identity; and utilizepeer-to-peer conversations.

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"As the workplace evolves and organizations change, autonomous,psychologically safe teams will be quicker to successfully adapt,"the authors write. "Their leaders must be agile and forgotraditional leadership practices, as comfortable as they mayseem."

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Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience, with particular expertise in employee benefits and other human resource topics.