Psychological safety - how you can contribute

Have you ever wondered why some teams stick together why others constantly have to refill vacant roles?


One important reason is the lack of psychological safety in the team and a culture that does not bring out the best of every team member.


Psychological is defined as being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career*”. Amy Edmondson, organizational behavioral scientist defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking*.”


Why has the topic of psychological safety become so important? In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment, we do not have certainty and can act as if we had all the answers. Coming up with innovative solutions to new problems requires us collaborate and to leverage different perspectives and skills. This is only possible if we feel safe to show up as ourselves, to share our ideas (as new as they might sound), and to be in an environment in which showing vulnerability and asking for help is seen as a strength.


Who would you rather follow, a boss who behaves like knowing it all and then covering up their mistakes or a leader who invites you in to solve a task at hand together valuing your unique perspectives?


Do you remember a situation in school when you shared something, and the crowd started laughing about your idea? Most probably you will not feel as safe the next time sharing. The situation is not much different in a team environment, when you share an idea, and your boss is ignoring it or someone is laughing about it in a destructive way. It is these small moments that matter that can multiply into a toxic culture.


And the opposite of psychological safety, fear, puts you in a performance mode that is provoking a fight or flight response in your brain. Do you think you can come up with great ideas and your best outcome in this state? It is an illusion. Implications are so important to us that we self-centre in a culture of fear because there is this constant risk of retaliation - you withdraw and retreat as your form of risk management and self-preservation.


This is not only harmful to you, but also to the team and the organisation at large. Psychological safety amounts for 43% of team performance*. Not only are psychological safe teams higher performing than teams with a high level of fear, also, the team members are happier and much less likely to leave.


What can you do to contribute to a team that feel safe, motivated and energised?

Here are some points to reflect on:

  • Are you contributing to any of the fear in the team?

  • Are there moments in which you could speak up to be an ally to a colleague?

  • Are there moments in which you chose not to include a colleague or prefer to feel safe yourself by sacrificing another person’s psychological safety?

  • Are you putting huge expectations or too much workload on a person/your team that gives them anxiety?

And think about:

  • How can you support colleagues that feel less safe than you?

  • What can you contribute to an environment that rewards vulnerability to create psychological safety?

  • What can you contribute to an environment in which we can disagree and challenge ideas (in a constructive and psychological safe way)?


Managers are multipliers and have the ability to influence. Who you promote plays also a crucial role. As a leader, consider a selection criteria before promoting high performers based on their individual performance. Try to understand if this person is able to create a psychological safe environment for others. Because a team with high psychological safety will over time outperform any team based on fear.


“Innovation comes from the embrace of divergent and novel points of view, which are precisely the ideas that die first in a psychologically unsafe environment” - Microsoft - The Art of Teamwork


To conclude, it is worth investing into cultivating psychological safety as it is the key ingredient for high performing teams. Every action counts and is visible to the team. Therefore, every team member has a role model function in living the values of psychological safety and collaboration – the result will speak for itself.


Learn more about my work www.change-now.world


Sources:

  • Kahn, Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work

  • Frazier, M. L., Fainshmidt, S., Klinger, R. L., Pezeshkan, A., & Vracheva, V. (2017). Psychological safety: A meta‐analytic review and extension. Personnel Psychology, 70(1), 113-165

  • Thomas, What is psychological safety?