Psychological Safety is vital for teams in and of itself, but what Psychological Safety fosters in the team, is the real win. Going beyond Psychological Safety means having teams that are collaborative, innovative, creative and productive, but how do we cultivate psychological safety in our teams?

Many teams find themselves acting out the various roles in the Drama Triangle (Burgess, 2005), playing into unhelpful ways of being that definitely do not make for a psychologically safe work environment. One way to move away from these roles and take steps to build a more psychologically safe team is to understand The Empowerment Dynamic (Emerald & Zajonc, 2019).


The Empowerment Dynamic (TED)

The Empowerment Dynamic, or TED, is also a triangle.

It faces the other way to the Drama Triangle – up not down.

So, where we could liken the Drama Triangle to a capsized sailing boat, its sails beneath the water, TED gives us an alternative. It helps us “flip” the unhealthy dynamic so that the boat rights itself, with its sails ready to capture the wind.

The TED triangle also comes with roles and scripts. Operating in these new roles will enable adult-to-adult transactions and behaviour leading, ultimately, to that “I’m ok, you’re ok” position.

Sailing as a metaphor for the tension between roles

Let’s consider the sailing metaphor we introduced above, for a moment. Because sailing explains rather well how the new roles of TED can help us navigate life more effectively. In a sailboat the ropes, or lines, adjust and orientate the shape of the sails, helping to position them most effectively to respond to the wind.

Achieving the best shape of the sail is done by adjusting the tension in the lines. Sometimes you pull them in, sometimes you let them out. Line tension is what holds the sail in the most appropriate shape for the weather conditions.

If you look at the shape of the sails, they form a triangle (get it?).

And when the bottom points of the sail are adjusted appropriately, with the right tension in the lines, the boat is empowered to sail more effectively. Now, when it comes to relationships, that’s what the new roles of TED can accomplish.

Through appropriate tension in the “friendshipliness”, or friend-ship-lines(s), we can change the orientation and shape of the sail – empowering you to sail your boat, or your life, most effectively.

You can respond suitably to whatever weather you face.

The Empowerment Dynamic “flips” the Victim into a Creator, the Persecutor into a Challenger and the Rescuer into a Coach.


TED – optimally navigate life in one of three ‘new’ roles

The Empowerment Dynamic “flips” the Victim into a Creator, the Persecutor into a Challenger and the Rescuer into a Coach. (Emerald & Zajonc, 2019).

These new roles and scripts require trust and compassion to play out appropriately. Getting the tension right between trust and compassion (two factors that are present in every healthy interpersonal relationship) is important.

Each of these three new roles has three core beliefs that help them maintain their script. Like the Drama Triangle there’s a healthy interdependence between these new roles.

Creator, Challenger or Coach – which healthy role do you play?

The Creator
Creators see themselves through a lens of possibility (rather than the weak deficiency identity of the Victim).

They take charge of their lives.

Where the Victim prefers to look back, re-telling the deficiency stories of their past, the Creator looks forward, taking an optimistic approach to life – believing in their own potential.

A Creator perspective follows 3 core beliefs:

I am sufficient, whole and complete
I am responsible for choosing my responses to life
I can focus on learning and improving, even when faced with struggles and setbacks

(Emerald & Zajonc, 2019)

Operating as a Creator doesn’t mean the weather will always be good. But, Creators are better able to navigate effectively – with the help of the other roles,

The Coach 

The Coach takes quite a different tack when dealing with the Creator. One of the main differences is listening, instead of telling. 

The Coach takes an approach that asks “How are you/we going to create what you/we want?” 

Coaches listen, they are supportive partners in the process. 

This is completely opposite to the Rescuer, whose favourite line is “I know best!” – they often intervene without even being asked. (Emerald & Zajonc, 2019).

But the Coach doesn’t force solutions on the Creator. They know the Creator can find their own solutions, with a little help, perhaps. (Emerald & Zajonc, 2019). 

The friendshipliness of Coaches comes out in their ability to help adjust the sails (there’s that sailing metaphor, again) when the time comes. But they don’t just take over.

If a Coach refrains from jumping in and taking control, it will empower the other person to be more creative – to be involved in the solution process.

But if they default into a Rescuer role, it will be harder for the Victim to see their own potential in the situation. You see how the roles play off each other?  


The three main beliefs of the Coach are:

  1. I have faith in the wisdom that lies within
  2. I trust the discovery process
  3. I believe in leaving the power with others as they clarify what they want

A coach helps to facilitate a space in which the Creator can find insights. 

“With this faith, a Coach allows time for the individual’s unique learning process to unfold, while holding them as ultimately whole and complete.” TED authors

A Coach trusts that the process will uncover solutions in time, as and when the Creator is ready for them.

“With this faith, a Coach allows time for the individual’s unique learning process to unfold, while holding them as ultimately whole and complete.” TED authors 


The Challenger

Challengers also have the Creator’s best interests at heart, but, unlike Coaches, they are more likely to speak their mind.

Challengers are committed to a certain perspective and value.

They see themselves as truth-tellers and sometimes say what’s unpopular, but in a way that is very different to how Persecutors intervene.

Challengers focus on the issue, not the person.

So, to use the sailing metaphor again, they say “The sails aren’t right for this wind”, not, ”You don’t know how to sail” or maybe “ I don’t think that’s the right direction to be going” not “you’re an idiot for going there”.

So when they speak truth, it is safe, and this often sparks learning and growth, which of course, are very important for Creators to reach their potential.

Ultimately their involvement inspires creators to “reach for the highest good.” (Emerald & Zajonc, 2019).

The three beliefs of Challengers are:

Life is about learning and growth – even in the face of “not knowing”
Given that life is ever-changing and uncertain, I rest in the confidence and conviction of my values
I tell the truth about current reality, without blame or judgement

Challengers ask themselves, and others : “Given the situation, what can we learn or gain here?”.

Like Coaches they also trust the process. Sometimes they provoke a response, or nudge people to act, to learn and grow.

In the Drama Triangle, Persecutors try to control the chaos, but a Challenger is comfortable in uncertainty, knowing that they don’t know everything.

For them, it’s all part of the learning process. (Emerald & Zajonc, 2019)

Challengers see reality as it is, without judging the person. They don’t take the Persecutor’s “one up” approach to the Creator – blaming, accusing and belittling.

The issue is not the person.

Challengers focus on the issue, not the person.


The Empowerment Dynamic and Psychological Safety 

As each member of your team moves from the scripts dictated by the Drama Triangle and begins to embrace the healthy roles outlined in The Empowerment Dynamic, the team will start to experience increased levels of Psychological Safety, and the benefits of that Psychological Safety will include healthier team dynamics, and higher levels of innovation, collaboration and creativity. 


You can get access to Beyond Psychological Safety, a resource we put together to give you insight into what psychologically safe teams look like, what it looks like when teams are not safe, and how to move towards a more psychologically safe work environment.






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