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The Circle of Safety – Establishing Trust through Teamwork

The Circle of Safety – Establishing Trust through Teamwork


In a growing company it’s quite normal to feel like we are constantly in a battle.  A battle for resources, for results, for energy, and for people’s time and attention. The result is much unwanted tension and frustration.

Given work pressures, our focus can easily turn to external events, such as keeping up with your competition, or implementing shiny new technology, and internal issues, such as unhealthy conflict and personal politics.  However, these threats are much more manageable when leaders focus first on their people, establishing a firm foundation of trust within teams, rather than playing the blame game.

In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek explains the concept of ‘Circles of Safety’:

“Only when we feel we are in a ‘Circle of Safety’ will we pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.”


Teams focused on trust can easily act in the best interest of the collective and this is illustrated in the fable of the Lion and the Oxon:

A lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

-Aesop, 6th century B.C.


In the fable, once the circle was broken, the Oxen saw the group strength diminish immediately.  When in the ‘Circle of Safety’, “We” is the protector of “Me”.  When looking out for what is best for “We”, “Me,” inevitably is taken care of. The same principles apply to teams of people at work. Establishing a ‘Circle of Safety’ is a breeding ground for interdependence, protection, and success for all.

How do you build a deep level of trust within a team, keeping everyone focused, aligned and communicating well?

Rooted in the ‘Circle of Safety’ is the concept of ‘leading by example’ and the willingness to place the needs of others above your own, Sinek comments:

“Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.”

Organisations where people share values and feel valued, succeed over the long term in both good and bad times. Being accountable means that we share credit and ownership for everything that exists in our business – the good, bad, and ugly.  When something is bad or ugly, we agree to take responsibility as a team, and work together to fix it.

The greatest organisations all have cultures in which the leaders provide cover from above and the people on the ground look out for each other.  This is the reason they are willing to push hard and take the kinds of risks they do.  The Entrepreneurial Operating System EOS® is a blueprint for building a growth focused company. If you own a business and are feeling frustrated, stuck or unhappy there are a number of steps you can take today.



“Grow or Die’s method is so simple and fool-proof, it makes you wonder how you’ve got this far without it.”

Joanne Carney

COO, Eirteic Consulting Ltd


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