Psychological safety is essential to keep your team members engaged. It creates an environment where they feel safe to share suggestions, ask for help, and challenge the status quo. Doing this well has been proven to drive innovation, strengthen diversity and inclusion, and create happier, more productive, and more resilient teams.
So leaders, take notes! Let’s dive into what is psychological safety, why it’s important, and how you can create a safe environment for your team.
What is Psychological Safety?
Dr. Amy Edmondson, a professor from Harvard Business School who coined the term, defines it as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” (quantumworkplace.com)
Essentially, this means you’ve created an environment where your team members feel safe to express themselves. They are not afraid of negative consequences as a result of sharing their opinions, making mistakes, or taking smart risks at work. Think of it as anti-group think; your team members will be more likely to speak up and share new ideas, honest feedback, and mistakes.
What does Psychological Safety Matter for Leaders?
Research from Google identified psychological safety as the #1 indicator of a high-performing team. “Individuals on teams that score highly in psychological safety are less likely to leave their job and more likely to embrace diverse ideas and bring in more revenue.” (Nobi Academy)
Psychological safety is also a foundational component of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. It’s essential to create an environment where hearing diverse perspectives is not only safe, but standard.
In addition, psychological safety makes your team more adaptable and resilient to change, as team members are more likely to express innovative ideas to solve problems and move the organization forward.
How can Leaders Create Psychological Safety?
1) See your team members as people first
Show that you care about each individual as a person, not just as an employee. Ask about their personal life, their family, what they like to do outside of work. Something as simple as starting your one-on-ones with “how are you?” instead of diving straight into work can make your team members feel valued for who they are, not just the work they provide.
2) Show them their opinions matter
If a team member has an idea that leads to a new initiative or creates a positive result on a project, celebrate them! When people can see that their suggestions are taken seriously and their contributions make a real difference, they will feel motivated to continue sharing new ideas.
3) Actively solicit questions & different viewpoints
During team meetings, make it a habit to ask if anyone has any questions on each item covered. Make it an open discussion, asking “does anyone have another perspective to offer?” It’s important to be accepting of all viewpoints presented, even if there are some you may not agree with or implement. Thank each team member for sharing their opinion and keep the discussion positive, so they will feel encouraged to continue openly sharing in meetings.
4) Provide multiple ways for team members to share their thoughts
Even with a psychologically safe environment, some team members may not feel comfortable sharing in a large meeting. Additionally, some people may need more time to process and develop their ideas. Send a follow-up email after team meetings and invite team members to share any new thoughts or perspectives that have come up. Better yet, create a #NewIdeas Slack channel where team members can share their ideas at any time – just be sure to keep it active and positive!
5) Own up to your mistakes
As a leader, it’s important that you lead by example to set the tone for your team. Taking ownership when you make a mistake and turning failures into lessons learned will not go unnoticed among your team members. This creates an environment where people aren’t afraid of failure and feel safe to take risks, which is a key component of innovation.
I can’t express enough the importance of psychological safety, and research has consistently proven the positive impacts that such an environment has on high-performing teams. Hopefully this post has given you a few take-aways to begin integrating into your team.
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