In episode #94, Taylor Poindexter revealed that psychological safety was a key ingredient in determining whether or not she took a job. But, what is psychological safety? How do you foster psychological safety on a team? Let’s explore what psychological safety is and how you can create it on your teams.
What is Psychological Safety?
In 1999, Psychologist Amy Edmondson introduced the concept of psychological safety in the Administrative Science Quarterly journal. Here, she defined psychological safety as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” In other words, you won’t be punished or humiliated for making a mistake and for speaking up. Creating an environment where people are comfortable to speak up, raise issues and concerns, try out new ideas, and fail without repercussions is the hallmark of every great manager. Most employees dream of working on this kind of team, yet so many managers struggle with fostering this in the workplace. Why? Because it’s hard!
For example, have you ever been in a meeting where no one spoke up, asked a question or stated an opinion? When the manager tried to engage the team, it was met with dead silence? One of my managers comes to mind when I think of this experience. Her teams were always deathly afraid of speaking up in team meetings because they knew it would come with a certain wrath, either in the meeting or later on. People on the team routinely placed blame with others and an ‘us against them’ mentality festered within the team. Making a mistake was often fatal, if you were not among her favorite employees. As difficult as this environment was to work, I learned a considerable amount from her on how not to be as a boss. Many of my Manager Essentials were born out of observing her poor leadership skills.
Where do you start?
So, how do you foster psychological safety on a team? Creating an environment where people feel safe to speak up, make mistakes, question, explore ideas takes an active mindset of humility, trust and reflection. I always like to take stock of my own behaviors first, before I look at anyone else’s behavior. Creating a safe environment for my team starts and ends with me.
To start this reflection, ask yourself:
- Does my team feel safe speaking up in team meetings or during our one-to-one meetings? How often do they speak up? Do they raise critical issues?
- The last time someone on my team failed, what happened? How did I react? How was my reaction received? Is my team comfortable taking responsibility for the failure or do they search for who they can blame?
- Do my team members just go along with what I say or are they comfortable challenging me? If not, why?
Go deep, as you reflect on the answers to these questions. List specific examples. Be honest with yourself on how you reacted and why your team members may have reacted the way that they did. Ask yourself, if you were in their shoes, how would you have reacted?
Next comes the hard part. Admit your mistakes openly and honestly to your entire team. Apologize when necessary. Amy Edmondson refers to this as acknowledging fallibility. Sharing your own fallibility, if it is motivated in genuine humility, will help build trust between yourself and your team.
Then, start working on improving by taking some pointers from some of these resources:
- Harvard Business Review: High Powered Teams Need Psychological Safety: Here’s How to Create It
- Amy Edmondson’s Tedx Talk
- Impraise.com: What is Psychological Safety and Why is it the Key to Great Teamwork?
Finally, ask your team what they need to feel safe at work. Once you ask, keep quiet and listen. Take notes. Ask clarifying questions. Keep an open mind. This is a learning opportunity for you and your team and the feedback you will receive is a gift. Treat it as such.
What have you found effective to increase psychological safety on your teams? Leave a comment below with your best ideas.
Until next time ~
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If you’d like to share a story or have a question you’d like answered on becoming a great manager, reach out to me here.