This is the trait that defines a top-performing, highly productive, and innovative team. Here’s how to get it and keep it.
Several years ago, Google conducted a study and found that one characteristic above all others enabled teams to thrive. That trait is psychological safety, defined generally as the shared group space where team members feel safe to take risks and speak freely without fears of being judged, rejected, or dismissed. However, psychological safety can be challenging or even impossible to maintain if the organizational culture doesn’t support it. Read on for ways you can create psychological safety that lasts and takes your teams to new heights.
You may think that your organization already has a supportive, open culture. However, if even a fraction of your employees can identify with the scenario below, you could do better:
During a staff meeting, the team at ABCD is talking about ways to promote a series of patient-/family-oriented fact sheets and FAQs. Jane enthusiastically says, “I would love to see this as an app. I think it would be great and not that hard to do.” Before she can say anything else, John rolls his eyes and jumps in: “That would never work!” He then goes on to share his ideas. Jane sits silently for the rest of the meeting and seldom speaks up again after that. Within six months, she’s taken a position with another company.
In a psychologically safe culture, employees don’t engage in such behavior. However, if someone like John did interrupt and dismiss a colleague, the meeting leader would intervene, let Jane to finish her thought, and then discuss her idea. John would have the opportunity to disagree and offer his counterpoint to Jane’s suggestion; but he wouldn’t be allowed to interrupt her, dismiss her idea, and take over the conversation.
While someone may have an impractical suggestion today, tomorrow that same person could have the next great idea. However, if that individual is hesitant to speak up, a brilliant idea might never see the light of day. Psychological safety enables good ideas to shine. Additionally, it lets teams:
· Share thoughts and ideas without fear of retaliation.
· Not back away from emotional discussions or controversial issues.
· Have difficult conversations with each other that are respectful and constructive.
· Respect each other and listen while others speak.
· Make mistakes, admit them, and have the chance to do better in the future.
To create a psychologically safe culture, forget about trying to have the “perfect team.” Instead, focus on creating a workplace that promotes and values honest discussions, mutual respect, listening, and empathy. Then make sure you and other leaders are modeling psychologically safe behavior. If people interrupt, laugh at, or dismiss others, speak up immediately. Make it clear that everyone’s contributions are welcome and that each team member deserves a chance to speak and contribute.
Elsewhere, you can:
· Encourage employees to share what keeps them from speaking up or offering suggestions or opinions. What is it about how others talk or act that makes them hesitant to share ideas?
· Based on the above information, have your team establish ground rules, such as: no mocking or put-downs, no laughing at others’ ideas, focusing on positives instead of negatives when discussing ideas, and not letting disagreements about issues/ideas become personal.
· Encourage people to be curious and ask questions. Balance inquiry and advocacy, that is, encourage people to speak up and advocate for their ideas but welcome questions from and discussions with others.
· Model courage. In addition to modeling respect for others, show your teams that you are willing to speak up and share while allowing others to respond.
Start the conversation today, and create a stronger culture, more engaged employees, and less conflict. Even if your organization already promotes psychological safety on an ongoing basis, a “check-up” is a great way to remind everyone that their ideas and concerns are listened to and valued.