Have you worked for a company where you felt your honest mistakes would be punished? Did you worry your opinions would be judged (that’s if you felt able to voice them at all)?

If you answered yes, you’ll be aware of the crippling effect of not feeling psychologically safe in the workplace.

According to Amy Edmondson, a leading Harvard Business School academic, psychological safety describes “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” and “will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”

Amy’s research shows that people who work in psychologically safe environments tend to be more innovative, learn from their mistakes and are motivated to improve their team or company. And businesses are taking note.

In 2015, Google published the results of a two-year study, involving more than 200 interviews with its staff, that named psychological safety as the number one key dynamic of an effective team.

Making your workplace psychologically safe

Team members are particularly attuned to the behaviour of their leader; their responses and attitudes influence perceptions on what is appropriate and safe.

With that in mind, here’s some practical steps leaders can take to improve psychological safety in their workplace.

Give your team a voice – Provide opportunities, such as team meetings or 1-2-1s, for people to express their ideas and opinions, receive feedback (dare I suggest here also to give feedback) and encourage conversation. Also, help to remove physical barriers by having your office close to your team and an open door policy where possible.

Debate don’t judge – It’s easy to feel bruised when an idea is dismissed. Debate ideas with the team, weigh up pros and cons, and help everyone come to a mutual agreement on how to move forward.

Don’t play the blame game – Blame and criticism can quickly lead to conflict, defensiveness and disengagement. If a team member is under-performing, don’t assume to know the reason why; explore what might be the bigger issue behind their behaviour and ask how you can support them to help them get back on track. They may feel more comfortable to come to you if the issue arises again.

Keep team members accountable – Psychological safety doesn’t mean ‘anything goes’. It’s possible to reward excellence and check poor performance while embracing inevitable small errors and imperfections.

Be vulnerable – You can demonstrate tolerance of mistakes by acknowledging some of your own and what you’ve learned from them. Would you trust anyone who didn’t show signs of vulnerability now and again?

Measure psychological safety – Practise what you preach and don’t be afraid to ask! Periodically ask your team how they feel and what could enhance their feeling of safety and satisfaction, for example, frequency of check-ins, styles of communication, types of feedback etc.

 

Want to find out how psychologically safe your workplace is? At Tell Jane, our experienced HR practitioners can help you review existing policies or put new strategies in place to lay the foundations of a supportive workplace culture. For more information, email lisa@telljane.co.uk for a no obligation discussion.

 

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