Why Psychological Safety & Trust Are So Important At Work

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.”

Zac's Challenges:

Zac’s tech business is growing rapidly. He’s gone from being a developer with a good idea to now overseeing an ever-expanding team. Zac knows that in order for the business to grow successfully, it needs to stay true to its founding values and his staff need to feel valued and engaged. Zac wants to understand if he and his team are on the same page and he needs to do it quickly and cost effectively.

Zac's PCS Solution

Zac decides to use PCS Lite to get a quick temperature check of how his team are performing and what they think about the business. The PCS Lite report quickly surfaces the fact that his team have lost sight of the organisation’s purpose and goals. Zac realises that he needs to improve his on-boarding processes and help orientate the new team members better in the company culture and vision. 6 months later, Zac uses PCS Lite to check his new onboarding process is working; concludes that the growing team are much better aligned to his vision and are generally operating in a more positive working environment.

Annabel's Challenges:

It’s Annabel’s job to help the Partners in the firm manage their clients and ensure they’re consistently adding value. Recently, Annabel has been asked by one of the Partners to find a tool or framework that the consultants can use to benchmark new clients looking for team and leadership improvement programmes. It needs to be cost-effective, established and reputable and able to be branded with the firm’s own logo.

Annabel's PCS Solution

Annabel recommends PCS Pro to the Senior Partners as it provides an objective measurement of team and leadership climate against which the consultants can build performance improvement programmes. PCS has a good track record, academic validation, excellent training and customer service, so she’s confident that it’s the right tool for the firm’s consultants to use.

Sarah's Challenges:

Sarah has to keep across the multiple training and development needs in the organisation and do it within a tight budget. Recently, Sarah’s been asked to design a L&D programme that improves the staff retention rate and helps staff feel more engaged with the changes happening in the organisation, not least the shift to more flexible working.

Sarah's PCS Solution

Sarah uses PCS to measure how different teams across the organisation are performing and look at any patterns which suggest the need for organisation-wide, leader or team training. Sarah notices that all teams and leaders have a low climate score in the Processes segment. Sarah knows that allocating budget in this area will improve performance. She works with the Senior Management Team to review the organisation’s processes as they transition to more flexible working and designs a training programme to support staff in the transition. She’s helped staff to feel supported, acknowledged and engaged which ultimately drives performance. 

Jim's Challenges:

Jim’s client has a team that’s not performing as well other teams in the organisation. The team has a high staff turnover, sickness and the lack of cohesion is impacting the team’s wellbeing and performance. Jim needs to get to the bottom of why this is happening and design effective coaching interventions which can generate tangible results for his client.

Jim's PCS Solution

Jim uses PCS Pro to measure / benchmark how the team and leader are performing across the 6 segments critical to team performance – Goals, Roles, Processes, Adaptability, Connection and Resilience. He can immediately see the disparity in Goals, Processes and Connection between the leader’s perception and those of her team. He uses this information to build a coaching programme designed align team and leader. After 6 months, the team seems to be more settled and productive. Jim remeasures using PCS Pro – the results show the client the effectiveness of his coaching intervention.