Organisations are built around structures, policies and procedures. These organisational frameworks are there to make sure those tasks and services are delivered consistently and at a certain level. Your company may even adhere to the ISO (International Standards) that ensures that products and services are consistently delivered in a safe and reliable manner. In addition, it focuses on eliminating wastage, reducing errors and increasing productivity. It’s all good and well focusing on the physical safety, however where do we address our teams’ and peoples’ psychological safety? You may be thinking that we can’t possibly deal with that too, but you must, so I am going to tell you how.
Psychological safety is a term that was coined by Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson and it refers to the shared belief that a team feels safe to take risks, to make mistakes, to learn from them and to try again. Teams who don’t feel psychologically safe will become distrustful, won’t want to communicate or contribute, won’t commit or be engaged and won’t be able to access their problem-solving skills. Leaders might be wondering what is up with the team dynamics because they are not collaborating as well as they should, but they can’t put their finger on the cause. What they need to do is to look at the team’s psychological safety.
A key symptom to look for is if the team feels comfortable and safe to speak up during conversations. Do people share ideas and thoughts freely or do they hesitate or hold back? Do team members openly debate ideas with respect and interest, or do they just pay lip-service where genuine thoughts are not verbalised? You can probably relate where you’ve been in a meeting where you sensed that people were merely going through the motions without feeling genuine deep interest and connection. Fear of speaking up or sharing ideas is an extremely common factor observed in organisations.
What can you do to change this? How can you as the leader start the process of transforming the team so that they feel psychologically safe? Here are six tips to get you going:
- Encourage team members to come up with ideas and suggestions. Acknowledge and appreciated the person as well as their idea because that will build trust and encourage further contribution.
- Foster the culture that your people come first. Making profits is a given for organisations to be sustainable. However, to sustain profits, performance and sustainability, an organisation needs happy employees. Put your people first before your clients and profits.
- Champion learning opportunities and allow people to share, talk and demonstrate their learnings. Apply learning to current work scenarios and be curious about the solution. Grow your people.
- Lead with vulnerability and fallibility. Risk being open and honest when you have made a mistake or not delivered as agreed. Be humble about not knowing answers to problems.
- Include every team member, especially the quiet ones. Encourage their contribution and remove the fear of saying the wrong thing. Recognise input from team members; it’s a gem!
- Be available for your team to connect with you when they need to. Agree how best to be respectful and mindful of each other’s times and work commitments.
When you think of safety in the workplace, it’s about physical and psychological safety. I hope that these practices will benefit you and your team to develop psychological safety so that you can have fun at work.
Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350-383.