Firstly, what is psychological safety?
Psychological safety is a phrase first coined by Amy Edmondson, a behavioural scientist at Harvard University.
Essentially, in a psychologically safe environment, we are safe to show up, express ourselves, have our voice heard and be accepted without judgement and fear that somebody in our team is going to be malicious towards us.
What is the negative impact of not having psychological safety?
A workplace without psychological safety can lead us to feel stress responses. We know this can result in a lack of creativity, we shut down, we don’t speak up and this is not a great environment to work in to get the best out of people.
Now we know what psychological safety IS, what is it NOT?
Some assume it is where people feel very comfortable and safe with one another but it’s actually the opposite. It’s having an environment to feel safe in to have difficult conversations, address the tough issues and not be afraid.
Psychological safety is not where people can say what they want and without consequence. It’s about agreeing what’s acceptable and encourage that behaviour in the team.
With so many people now working from home, how do we ensure that employees feel psychologically safe whilst not physically together?
We are experiencing a global pandemic and situations that are new to us all, and as a result, people are really suffering. It’s never been more important to create psychological safety within our teams.
Many teams I work with don’t have a team charter in place. Team Charters mean being explicit about what the key goals are, the priorities and the deliverables. How do we measure success, what is the shared vision of success, and most importantly what will you agree to as a team in terms of the behaviours to cultivate a psychologically safe environment where we can achieve everything we’ve set out to.
The team that leads the charter is critical. It is not something that is leader driven; it is the team agreeing what they need between each other to create maximum trust in a psychologically safe environment – what is okay and what is not okay.
How do you establish whether your colleagues/employees feel psychologically safe?
Have a conversation about “what is psychological safety?” Help people understand what an unsafe psychological environment looks like.
Then think about increasing psychological safety as a group. What does that look like? What behaviours should we see and demonstrate between ourselves? With your team, go through these questions and rate them 0 to 10.
Collating the responses
Some of the results might be difficult to look at but that’s okay. If the scores on the questionnaire return low, then it’s a good place to start the conversation. Ask why the score is that way and what needs to happen to increase it.
The results should be discussed with the team rather than the leader – let them lead the process. The ultimate question is: ‘what do we need to do as a team to make this a more psychologically safe environment and what are we signing up to together?’
Now it’s time to build the Charter, how do you do this?
It’s all about having a dialogue and it’s a unique process to every team. Some may choose to answer the questions individually then come together; and others prefer to go through the process together.
The charter will be something people can sign up to – a simple, one-page document. When it’s implemented well, the team will call each other out and reward each other. Therefore, it’s important they sign up to the group charter and decide what they want to do more of, and what do they want to eradicate.
What success stories have you encountered from implanting a Charter?
We have seen teams where conflict has been reduced, but with the right kind of conflict increasing. When we see teams challenging each other and having difficult conversations then we know that’s a psychologically safe environment. Seeing the right kind of conflict increase is something to be welcomed, as opposed to shy away from.
The organisations with the most challenges in their culture are often those when there is no conflict, and everything looks cosy and harmonious. That can be because people do not feel psychologically safe.
Finally, what is the positive outcome of creating a culture of Psychological Safety?
There’s lots of empirical research that shows us that when teams are feeling psychologically safe, they are more creative, more innovative, they have better relationships and as a result, performance rises.