In today’s workplace, it’s essential for everyone on your team to feel safe.
Unfortunately, even in 2022, we’re not there yet. From nearly half of female business leaders facing difficulties in meetings to 30% of workers feeling undervalued in their office, it’s clear that much work is needed to build psychological safety.
Let’s explore the importance of psychological safety and how your workplace and team can successfully prioritise it.
What is psychological safety?
Psychological safety is a relatively new concept when it comes to workplace safety. Traditionally, there has been more focus on physical safety and emotional wellbeing, neither of which fully encompasses psychological safety.
Psychological safety has to do with a person’s confidence in expressing themselves in the workplace without facing negative consequences. Is your team afraid to share their opinions with you, ask for time for themselves, or risk being made to feel bad for giving the wrong answer?
If so, then you don’t have a psychologically safe workplace. Not only is this a problem for your staff, but it can also hamper employee productivity. A study by Google found that psychological safety is one of the key indicators of a top-performing team.
Don’t misinterpret the purpose of psychological safety
Before moving forward, it’s important to recognise the truth about psychological safety and not confuse it with walking on eggshells. The goal isn’t to create an environment where no one is ever upset. Not only is this not possible, but it can actually interfere with making all of your staff feel safe.
Instead, the focus should be on building trust and ensuring your team knows that it’s okay to feel upset and express that feeling. Your team should be able to express opinions and feelings, both positive and negative, without fearing consequences to their status or image. Knowing they won’t be judged or reprimanded is key to building a psychologically safe environment.
Why psychological safety is vital when building a high-performance team
Psychological safety isn’t just important for maintaining your employees’ wellbeing. It also plays a key role in creating a high-performance team that delivers. Here’s how psychological safety plays into your overall success.
First, it creates space for collaboration. You don’t need us to tell you that collaboration is one of the most important indicators of success. It puts more ideas on the table, helps you spot issues and errors early on, and generally leads to the ideal final results.
You can foster greater collaboration through psychological safety by creating a space where employees can proudly and confidently share ideas. It doesn’t mean that every idea is good, but it does mean that every idea is treated with respect and consideration. It also means that no one faces negative consequences from higher-ups or colleagues when sharing their input.
Next, your team needs to be able to communicate (almost) anything. Of course, this shouldn’t be an excuse to let inappropriate speech go unchecked. But there should be enough freedom and support that someone can express thoughts and reasonings, even on a failing project.
For this to work, managers and other team members need to avoid engaging in a punitive tone or tactics. Otherwise, you risk cutting off a valuable line of communication, hampering your project’s overall success.
If communication is something you or anyone on your team struggles with, a helpful exercise you can engage with (without calling anyone out) is “Just Like Me“. This exercise works to remind everyone on your team, both when sharing and listening, that each person on their team has many of the same concerns, anxieties, and goals as they do.
Lastly, psychological safety helps foster a sense of bonding among your team members and employees. And when your team members feel like they are bonded with their teammates, they’ll be more inclined to perform better, have higher morale, and be more engaged in their work.
Fortunately, there are a lot of exercises out there for helping your team bond. Anything from retreats to games to weekly meetings can help your team form relationships that will work to benefit your project.
Another great way to encourage bonding between your team is through after-work activities. While these should almost always be optional, they can be a great way to create a sense of tradition and camaraderie between your workers.
How to build psychological safety in your team
Alongside team-building exercises, there are several ways to implement psychological safety in your team. It can take months of work and be fragile to maintain. So how can you start building a sense of psychological safety?
Unmasking corporate invincibility
One of the most important ways to build psychological safety in your team is by unmasking corporate invincibility. In other words, higher-ups should let go of the traditional urge to seem all-knowing. Instead, be open about failures, ask questions, and let your guard down as often as possible.
Embracing disruptive leadership
You can also embrace disruptive leadership. This style of leadership is built around concepts like psychological safety. It’ll help you create a successful, unified, and safe team. You can read more about disruptive leadership here.
Creating a sense of belonging
You should work to create a sense of belonging in your team. Your workers shouldn’t feel uncomfortable sharing their ideas. They should feel that their ideas belong, are necessary, and are wanted. This will help even the shyest team members start to open up.
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