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Ten Ways To Increase Psychological Safety To Improve Team Culture


Culture eats strategy for breakfast” Peter Drucker

Today, success is determined not by how great business strategy is, but how healthy the team culture is.

Quick-fixes like ping pong tables in the office and nice material perks can feel good (and make the boss look good) in the short term, but what really matters is team dynamics and how people feel at work.

Psychological safety is an important aspect of healthy team functioning. Dr. Amy Edmondson, scholar and Harvard Business School professor, who coined the term ‘psychological safety’, explains it as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” It is associated with trust, openness, vulnerability and non-judgement.

Psychological safety can predict employee wellbeing, retention, effectiveness, and creativity having direct consequences on quality of work output. In some professions, like aviation and healthcare, psychological safety can be critical to physical safety.

For example, in Adam Grant’s podcast “Is It Safe To Speak Up At Work”, ex-Boeing employee Ed Pierson discusses how the two Boeing 737 plane crashes sadly didn’t surprise him given the low psychological safety work environment he experienced, whereby employees were overworked, not trusted, and humiliated for not meeting targets in front of others.

Bosses prioritised speed over safety and employees did not feel empowered to speak up, leaving more room for errors in plane equipment, leading to tragedy.

Lencioni’s “Five Dysfunctions of a team

In contrast, in high psychological safety environments, employees feel that they can support and respect each other, admit mistakes or take risks without negative repercussions, ask for help, and voice opinions in a non-judgemental environment.

Teams that are committed and speak up, or rather are not afraid to, therefore can take accountability for decisions, can trust and better communicate with each other, and can therefore yield better results. These should be the main focus and goals of a team manager.

In these teams, there is better decision making and innovation where people are comfortable sharing new ideas, and can experiment with new approaches.

As a leader, here are 10 practical ways to increase Psychological Safety in your teams:

1 – Actively encourage team members to share their ideas and observations, even when they’re different to your own, and appreciate feedback given to you.

2 – Are you creating enough space to hear everyone’s perspectives? For those who may be quieter in meetings, allow them to share ideas in other ways that they may be more comfortable speaking up. For example, set up a chatbox, engage in regular e-mail communication, create an anonymous feedback form, or plan 1:1 meetings.

3 – Active listening – in meetings, give your full attention, ask questions to understand more, and replay what you’ve heard (e.g. “What I’m hearing is that ____. Is that correct?” ) to confirm your understanding.

4 – Encourage a ‘culture of learning’ where in the face of setbacks, you support team members and ask “What learnings can we take forward for next time? What support would you need from me?” Saying “we” instead of “you” will help team members feel supported, and reduce the feeling of blame and shame.

5 – Role model psychological safety by sharing personal experiences where you’ve learnt from your mistakes and sought help from others.

6 – When someone points out that something is going wrong, talk about it positively, say “Thanks for spotting that, now what can we do to get back on track?” rather than “This is terrible”. This will encourage them to speak up next time too.

7 – Don’t shut down people’s new ideas – instead of “no, but”, use “yes, and” to build on what others’ have said to show you’ve listened and are willing to consider and incorporate their perspectives.

8 – Be transparent on how decisions are made, and mention how employees’ perspectives were taken on board when making the decision.

9 – Review ‘team norms’ and ‘ways of working’ together – ask the team what they’d like to start, stop, continue to improve team processes / dynamics.

10 – Getting to know each other on a deeper level can help us feel more comfortable in speaking our minds. Team members can create and share ‘how to work with me’ guides (see example). This will help the team feel that they can bring their true selves to work and feel more understood.

With these tips, your team will be more likely to effectively communicate and collaborate, which will lead to better end-results for your business.

As a team manager, if you incorporate these 10 techniques in your leadership, you will be far more likely to, not only yield better results, but also create and ensure a trustworthy, collaborative and innovative environment for your team.

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