Creating a High Performance Safety Team:

When a workgroup comes together, they don’t really know each other’s capabilities and sometimes they aren’t quite sure how to work together.

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By Carl Potter, CSP

Using an old model to get new results

When a workgroup comes together, they don’t really know each other’s capabilities and sometimes they aren’t quite sure how to work together. Many times assumptions are made that everyone knows what to do, when to do it and wants to do it. With that assumption comes risk–risk of failure and risk of injury.

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You may have seen the team model in the past: forming, storming, norming and performing (Tuckman, 1965). If a job is being planned and everyone involved is there for the meeting, they all huddle around the coffee, sodas, orange juice and donuts. This type of forming is a social aspect that begins the process of team work. Sometimes people don’t know each other, so they get introduced

As planning begins, everyone looks at the job and starts to decide what they want to do and how they will do it. If two or more want to do the same piece of the job or disagree on the approach, we will begin to see the storming phase of teamwork. The phase of teamwork that is desired by most is performing. All that stands in the way of getting to this phase is norming.

Norming is important. When norms are set-up ahead of time, people understand what is expected. If everyone has a different norm (way of doing safety) then the team can get stuck in the storming phase while they hammer out their differences. Many of the current safety norms come from OSHA, NESC, NFPA, API, ASME, ASTM and other organizations that serve each industry. Generally, the safety procedures or norms of an industry are the result of fatalities, maiming and near-misses that have been studied. Companies that are involved in industry safety research and make a concerted effort to set safety norms are typically some of the most productive companies. For example, in construction hard hats have become a norm.

If you walk onto a construction site you will see everyone in hard hats. Although this has not always been the norm for construction, now you would be surprised to see someone on site without a hard hat. When safety glasses came to the forefront of construction and other industries, there was resistance. Soon, resistance gave way to an even better norm, “If you have a hard hat on, you also have safety glasses on.” Imagine a construction team that has to decide if they will wear their hardhats and safety glasses on a job. In a case like this, the team will stand around and discuss (or storm) the issue. If wearing a hard hat and safety glasses is the norm of the team, they are closer to performing.

Work teams that understand the dynamics of a team can easily see why adopting safety norms can help to improve performance and production. By working through each stage of the team model, high performing teams become teams where nobody gets hurt.

This week talk about where you are as a team. What stands in the way of you and your team being a high performing team?

About the Author:
Carl Potter, CSP, CMC, CSP...The Safety with organizations that want to create an environment where nobody gets hurt. As an advocate for zero-injury workplaces, he is a nationally-renowned safety speaker, author, and advisor to industry. He also enjoys flying and infusing aviation knowledge into workplace safety. For information about his programs and products, including the new Safety Ethics: Developing a Code of Ethics to Target Zero Injuries, see or contact him at Potter and Associates International, Inc. 800-259-6209 or


    Tuckman, B.W. Developmental Sequence in Small Groups. Psychological Bulletin, vol. 63, 1965, pp. 384-399.

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