It’s no doubt a term that you’re familiar with given the current climate and it may sound rather daunting, but ‘psychological safety’ can make a huge difference in your workplace and it contributes greatly to team performance.
The key aspect of psychological safety is trust. Trust between team members; trust in the leaders; trust in a person’s own viewpoints within the workspace. As Paul Santagata, Google’s Head of Industry says, “There’s no team without trust.”
When trust is in place, people feel psychologically safe enough to speak openly. They do not fear judgement by others and are willing and able to take risks. Team members are confident enough to voice their ideas, no matter how unusual or unconventional. The team climate is such that the members actively encourage each other to vocalise their opinions and generate new ideas.
In an article for Strategyzer, Stefano Mastrogiacomo explains that, “Solving complex problems is the bread and butter of any cutting-edge business, where constant experimentation is required: Intense phases of trial and error until teams gets things right, which by definition is the very basis of business innovation.”
The global giant, Google, recently conducted a two-year study into team performance. The main outcome was that high performing teams had one factor in common – psychological safety. The team members were confident that they would not be punished for taking a risk. They had permission to fail in essence. The encouragement of creativity and innovation leads to market breakthroughs – a powerful factor for a forward-thinking organisation. Santagata explains, “In Google’s fast-paced, highly demanding environment, our success hinges on the ability to take risks and be vulnerable in front of peers.”
What can a manager do to increase psychological safety in their team?
- Establish team behaviours and values: if the rules or code of conduct is explicit, everyone knows what is or is not acceptable. Teams will work in a more harmonious manner.
- Remember that everyone is human: there is not a ‘one size fits all’ model when it comes to individuals and their viewpoints. Each team member needs to respect that everyone has their own values, beliefs, experiences and vulnerabilities.
- Listen and be curious: if a manger enters a confrontation believing that they know their team member’s answers, it is more likely to lead to conflict. Be prepared, but be curious to learn about their thought process and feelings.
- Be collaborative: a leader can’t think that they have all the answers. Be open to suggestions from others, ask for feedback and consider their opinions.
- Measure team climate: instead of relying on assumptions and intuition, get the data to show exactly how your team is feeling and towhich areas need be adjusted. That knowledge is powerful and will enable leaders to understand whether your team is feeling psychologically safe.
To move forward, innovate and make impact as an organisation, you need to optimise team performance and encourage people to participate in the decision-making process. That will give an organisation its competitive edge. According to Mastrogiacomo, “In a world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) – create and maintain a psychologically safe climate must become a managerial priority for those who want to keep up in the global competitive race.”