What is psychological safety?
There is no single definition used every time. But one of the best is that created by Amy C. Edmondson in “The Fearless Organisation” book:
“Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. In teams, it refers to team members believing that they can take risks without being shamed by other team members. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected.”
Why psychological safety matters?
First of all, it is one of the strongest predictors of team effectiveness.
Secondly, it is a critical driver of:
- high-quality decision making,
- healthy group dynamics and interpersonal relationships,
- greater innovation,
- more effective execution in organizations
Missing psychological safety in a regular team can lead to high attrition rate, people taking frequent leaves, people not speaking up in meetings, fear of failure across all levels. Also majority is always in agreement with what their leaders have to say and nobody asks for help even when they are struggling. It is obvious that such a situation is not desirable.
Missing out on psychological safety means for example:
- the operating room staff not speaking up to avoid a wrong-side surgery
- that a CEO is not corrected before sharing inaccurate data in a public meeting
- workers at an airplane factory not speaking up about catastrophic flaws in the jet’s algorithm
We need to ensure psychological safety at work. Let’s look at this topic closer.
4 steps of psychological safety:
- Inclusion safety – “I feel accepted / included”
- Learner safety – “We can all learn from mistakes”
- Contributor safety – “I can actively contribute and propose changes or improvments”
- Challenger safety – “I can opose somebody with a contrudicting view”
You can learn more about steps of psychological safety in the article or podcast A Step Ahead.
Hints and tips for managers to drive psychological safety
Managers shouldn’t ask more personal questions but they need to create an environment that encourages employees to share aspects of their personal situations.
They have to trust employees to make the right choices for themselves and their families, balanced against the needs of their teams.
And last but not least, management’s responsibility is to expand the domain of which work-life issues are safe to raise.
5 steps towards Psychological safety in the hybrid workplace
Step 1. Set the scene
- Have a discussion with your team
- Explain the challenge
- Share ownership to develop new ways to work effectively
Step 2. Lead the way
- Share your own WFH/hybrid work personal challenges and constraints
- Managers have to go first!
Step 3. Take baby steps
- Make small disclosures yourself
- Make sure to welcome others’ disclosures
Step 4. Share positive examples
- Put your marketing hat on and share your conviction that increased transparency is happening
- Don’t disclose personal information
Step 5 . Be a watchdog
- Watch out for seemingly innocent comments like “We want to see more of you” or “We could really use you”
How to measure psychological safety?
You can use a test created by Edmondson. As members of a team, check how strongly you agree or disagree with these statements:
If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
It is safe to take a risk on this team.
It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.
So how did it go? OK or need some help?
If you want to learn more about this topic, check the full webinar: What Psychological Safety Looks Like in a Hybrid Workspace.
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