Psychological safety has become an increasingly popular term thanks to the call for progressive attitudes, across industries. Coined by Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson, it means “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”
But what does being ‘safe’ really mean?
Is safety from physical injury or absence of mental harassment enough for an organization to be called ‘psychologically safe’?
When thinking of a real-life depiction of psychological safety, it can be helpful to visualize a team that has come together to brainstorm ideas for a new product. In a psychologically safe environment, no team member would hesitate to openly share their ideas or be worried about negative reactions. Every idea would be heard with curiosity and treated respectfully. Imagining this visual can be especially helpful for companies and leaders looking to walk the talk of building a psychologically safe organization.
Before we go into the many ways in which leaders can foster psychological safety at work, it is important to remember that when a business understands and accepts the anxieties, vulnerabilities, and ideas of all its members, they inevitably become more innovative, resilient, and financially profitable.
From a leader’s prerogative, building a psychologically safe workplace must take place at three levels - personal, individual, and team. Before you set out on the journey to change your organizational climate, spend some time thinking about whether you are prepared to delicately handle any difficult conversations that may come your way. It might seem tempting to quickly shift from a hitherto culture of strong hierarchy and opaqueness to one where everyone opens up - but doing so without proper preparedness can backfire for your company.
As a leader, you might want to ensure that the following behaviors are implemented to ensure a successful transition for your teams towards a culture of safety.
From your top executives to your junior employees, there needs to be a shared understanding of the value of psychological safety. Not only does it have an impact on the emotional well-being of team members, but it also drives employee performance. Especially for customer-facing companies, psychological safety could have an impact on innovation, free-thinking, and collaboration among teams.
Leading by Example
Too often, such initiatives fail to have an impact when managers and leaders forget that these changes apply to them as well. Being able to include team members in your decision-making process, opening up to them about the challenges you are facing, and extending empathy during difficult situations can help pave the way for others. Too.
Each team has different ideas, don’t they? Some are in need of a more relaxed, candor-filled atmosphere to take them forward, while others may benefit from greater clarity regarding expectations of appropriate workplace behavior. The approach to building a psychologically safe team will be uniquely based on these interpersonal dynamics. And for leaders, this means switching up the ways in which they develop interventions for psychological safety.
Curious to Learn
Once you begin the journey towards a transparent culture, managing stressful or negative experiences that your employees face can be an eye-opener in many ways. However, leaders who are able to tune into their team members' grievances with an intent to listen and a curiosity to come up with a solution are far more likely to succeed compared to those who get defensive.
The rising popularity of the concept of psychological safety marks an important turn in the field of organizational culture.
And in our humble opinion, for organizations who are looking to stay ahead of the game, adopting it as a practice is the only way to go.