Make it safe for me to take risks
The shared belief held by workers that their psychological safety and well-being is protected and supported by senior management. Defined as an organisation or team level construct that refers to policies, practices and procedures that are upheld by managers and leaders for the protection of worker psychological health and safety.
|Fear of admitting mistakes||Comfort admitting mistakes|
|Blaming others||Learning from failure|
|Less likely to share different views||Everyone openly shares ideas|
|Common knowledge effect||Better innovation and decision-making|
Having values such as diversity, trust and respect, which can often have people rolling their eyes. However, according to one of the most successful businesses, the Google workplace, if you can create an environment of psychological safety, where “team members feel safe to take risks and can be vulnerable in front of each other”, it will underpin everything else needed for extraordinary performance, such as dependability, structure and clarity.
The academic community has identified this is a key to effective collaboration in diverse teams for some time now. Amy Edmondson, who thought up the term psychological safety, argues that if uncertainty and interdependence exist in a given work environment (arguably the majority of modern workplaces), teams require psychological safety to function.
When psychological safety is absent from the workplace, teams lose the individual knowledge and expertise each member brings to the table and begin to experience what is known as the Common Knowledge Effect.
When this effect is in play, teams tend to focus on shared information, and as a result they have, trouble capitalising on the diversity of knowledge and expertise in the team.
The very same knowledge and expertise those people were recruited for to begin with. This often leads to poor performance, poor decision making and missed opportunities for innovation.
Top three points
Being wrong is avoided like the plague
Creating psychological safety requires us to do the one thing many of us have been taught to avoid at all costs is being comfortable with being wrong. Fostering a healthy culture of debate within the team can be a way to make “being wrong” okay.
Blame is more important than gratitude
It is important for managers and team members to be able to hold one another accountable for results and behaviours. Psychologically safe environments embrace mistakes and treat failure as learning. One surprising way to do this is for managers to show gratitude for the work and effort invested, regardless of a negative outcome. This then lays the foundations for teams to view the failure as opportunity to learn and improve.
Outlying views are ignored
When team members observe that outlying views are regularly dismissed, they are less likely to share ideas or knowledge that stray from what the rest of the group knows. This is another symptom of the Common Knowledge Effect. The people who voice the most common information tend to have the most influence on the discussion, largely because group members prefer to hear information that conforms their views. Similarly, those who raise less common points tend to have less credibility within the group and therefore less incentive to continue voicing their opinions. This affect can be amplified if the information is coming from an already less influential member of the group, such as a more junior member of the team. One way managers can work around this is by actively listening for outlying or contrarian views and rewarding them. Even if the idea is not perfect, acknowledging of an demonstrating genuine interest on understanding its merits demonstrates to the rest of the group that uncommon knowledge is welcome and valued.
The key to an enjoyable working life
While it may be easier to focus on tasks and time management focusing on team dynamics may just be the key to a more productive and enjoyable working life. While we can’t always choose our circumstances, every team has the choice to prioritise team dynamics and create the conditions that are necessary for exceptional performance.
How do you create psychological safety?
- A compelling positive vision
- Formal training
- Involvement of the learner
- Informal training of relevant ‘family’ groups and teams
- Practice fields, coaches and feedback
- Positive role models
- Support groups
- Room for discussion, expression, clarification
- Consistent systems and structures
Warning signs of a psychologically unsafe workplace
- Increased conflict among co-workers
- More talk of stress, pressure among staff
- A noticeable increase in misunderstandings and miscommunication
- Signs of disengagement from work and co-workers
- Increased use of abusive language and conduct
- Increased absenteeism
- More grievances covering more issues