Psychological safety is a belief among members of a team that each person can speak his or her own mind and make creative suggestions without being fearful of being shamed or even losing his or her job. In this type of environment, each team member feels respected, accepted, and a valued part of the group. High performing teams not only successfully work together but also trust each other. The leader encourages each team member to share unconventional ideas and try new things even if he or she may make a mistake in the process. Strategic thinking that is critical in today’s workplace can be hindered without psychological safety.
Here are a few ways to increase psychological safety within your own team:
When dealing with any sort of conflicts that arise between members of the team, approach the situation as a collaborator, not as an adversary. Try to help each person to achieve a mutually desired outcome because true success usually results from a win-win outcome.
Remind the team that they are all just human beings trying to achieve the same goals. They each just want to feel appreciated and respected, so they need to remember this even when they have disagreements.
When you know that you need to have a difficult conversation with someone on your team, try to think through what you are going to say beforehand. Also try to anticipate how your listener might respond to you. Think through what the likely reactions of this person will be and how you might respond. If your listener becomes defensive, then your message might not be heard. Try not to place blame but use curiosity to ask questions. This will help the team member to focus on how he or she can work with you to find a solution to the issue at hand.
After having a difficult conversation, you should also ask the team member for feedback on the delivery of the message you were trying to give to him or her. If you discuss ways to come up with a solution together, this will increase the trust between both of you, as well as improve communication skills.
Strategic thinking is critical in today’s workplace but can be hindered without psychological safety. It has been proven that team members will feel more motivated, open-minded, and even excited to tackle difficult problems. Take some time to think about whether or not you need to improve the psychological safety within your own team.
In today’s world, we are bombarded with news of people being deceitful and untrustworthy. They may get away with something (or many things) for a long time but eventually they get caught. These people may have grown up hearing the phrase – “Honesty is the best policy” – but obviously they chose not to take this ethical path.
In a team setting, honesty can still be difficult. When asked questions by other members of the team, one may be reluctant to being totally truthful. There is a myriad of reasons why someone would act this way. A common one is having a lack of self-confidence in expressing their opinions which can make them fearful of how others may react. Others could include “holding back” information or opinions – not so much to be dishonest but for that moment it may be information that is not allowed to be made public yet. Lastly there are some that act in this manner to elevate themselves and their needs above others with no regard what the outcome may be; they are only concerned about themselves and will do whatever it takes including lie to get there.
So how does a leader as well as the other team members ascertain if someone is being honest? If a person is new, they need to build trust with others but it does take time. If the person is hesitant to speak up initially it is necessary for everyone to encourage the person to voice their opinion. Over time, the team members should learn who is more trustworthy than others but ideally you want to work in an environment where everyone is honest.
What about the “little white lie”? If it is used so as not to hurt someone’s feelings and does not cause any trouble to the group is that acceptable? Such examples are commenting on someone’s attire or their plans for the weekend. However, what happens when the lie grows and grows to the point that one has to “come clean” because they have backed themselves into a corner? Accepting responsibility for the lie(s) is the first step but how amenable are others to accepting the apology? The added issue is that rumors and gossip can start circling around the team compounding the lie.
Leaders need to be attuned to what is going on every day even though they may not be physically in the office. It is important for them to really spend the time to understand the dynamics of each person, the interaction between two or more people within the team (possible cliques), as well as the team overall. It is true that being honest may cause conflict but it is better to stop a little brush fire otherwise it may become an inferno and all credibility with the guilty parties may never be able to be regained.
As you read this, think about the last lie you told. Was it worth it? A person in the behavioral health field once told me that people lie because it makes them feel good. I think that is only one way to look at this. Let’s be honest here, lying has toppled all kinds of organizations so it is worth the time to do some self-examining and see how honest you really are and then assess others on the team. The goal is to create harmony (another good H word) in your workplace.
If you looked at a list of the major corporations from five years ago and now you will notice a big change. Companies that many of us grew up with (i.e. Kraft, etc.) are gone from the list and others known as disruptors are on it (i.e. AirBnb). How do these companies grow so quickly while ones that were once dominant in their fields are dying? Have you ever wondered if it is just the product or service, or is it the leadership and employees or a combination of both? The real answer is the latter but there is much more to it than that.
The traditional workforce functioned as we know in a hierarchical manner with the leader at the top. The expectation was that if “you did your job” you would be rewarded with a raise and possibly a bonus, and every x number of years you could expect a promotion. In my opinion what has changed drastically in the way we do business is what I will call “wonder”.
I wonder if we could do this more effectively? I wonder if I really need to work in an office setting five days a week? I wonder why we have done it this way for years but really have not achieved the results we desire? I wonder why the phrase “we have always done it this way” is not only obsolete but boring? I wonder why an element of fun can’t be incorporated into the workday?
These moments of wonder are what is changing the business landscape. The issue is that some leaders and team members have concerns with it. Some of this concern is due to fear and some is due to complacency. However I think the real issue is that once we grew up we did not know how to wonder anymore. As a child we dreamed up all kinds of things. One day we may be slaying dragons with cardboard swords and towels as capes. Other days we may be rocketing off into space. Our imagination always took us to a new place to explore. So how do companies inspire their employees to wonder?
One way is through brainstorming. Pick a topic and let every team member write down ideas on sticky notes. Each idea has its own sticky note. Encourage outrageousness even if practically speaking it could not happen. The idea is that one crazy idea may spark other ideas that eventually get to one that could be implemented.
Here is an example. I was conducting a training session on team building for managers of a government agency. There were a lot of restrictions on how they could reward their team members. No half days off, no outside events, etc. By doing this brainstorming activity, ideas emerged that were not only doable but made everyone realize that they were being too narrow-minded in their thinking, not only about a reward system but also on other things they felt they had no control over. They came away with several ideas they could implement right away but also felt empowered which made them feel better about their workplace overall.
The idea of wondering “what if” could bring a lot more fulfillment into your workplace as well as help with retention issues. Just wonder what the possibilities could be.