Belonging and Safety

Today I had a great discussion with teammates about the importance of creating a sense of belonging within our team culture. Over the course of the discussion I found myself conflating the ideas of belonging and psychological safety. Are the two concepts really the same?

Some interesting edge cases I came up with from my own life:

  1. Back when I was an operations manager at a startup I was part of a team I loved, but was pretty unhappy with the actual day to day of my job. In some ways, feeling like I was part of the team where everyone else loved what they were doing made it harder for me to admit how miserable I felt, even though I knew there would be no negative repercussions and people would probably want to help if I said something. Did I feel belonging as part of a team without the psychological safety to speak up? Perhaps I felt safety with only a false sense of belonging?
  2. My very first job out of college, I was part of a lab full of 60+ yr old men, many of whom were from rural areas (I was a 21 yr old woman who had always lived in suburban/urban areas). I certainly felt like the odd person out, but the fact that my colleagues were mere years away from retiring made it easy to be open and honest. Is that psychological safety without belonging?

Ultimately I’d argue it isn’t really important to define exactly where each of these situations lie. What is important in my mind is recognizing and valuing the self within a larger group. We can be our best when we know what we bring to the table, while simultaneously feeling like we’re part of something larger than ourselves. Finding ways within your team to acknowledge individuals while creating cues of safety and belonging seem like a surefire way to help build an awesome culture.

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I'm a senior technical product manager who loves learning about systems and understanding how technical details impact users' experience.

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Leah Hurwich Adler

I'm a senior technical product manager who loves learning about systems and understanding how technical details impact users' experience.