Psychological Safety is a Key Component to Building Better Teams

According to Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor who coined the term Psychological Safety, “Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

In 2008, Google initiated Project Oxygen, a study about what makes a great manager.  In 2015, Google then published the results of a two-year research project called Project Aristotle, a study about what makes a great team. 

Researchers found that of the five components that impacted team effectiveness, psychological safety was number one.

Research shows that psychological safety is critical if there is to be creativity, innovation, collaboration, problem-solving, and healthy team dynamics on any team within the workplace.  As a manager do you foster an environment of psychological safety for your team?  Do you find that you are the only one who speaks in meetings, or that you must drag information out of the group?  Does the team seem to lack the ability to take risks and try new ideas?  While you could be experiencing these things for many reasons, it’s possible that the team may feel a lack of psychological safety. 

Here are six tips on how to build a better team by improving this key component.

  1. Admit that you do not have all the answers.  As a leader, it’s not your job to be the problem solver, it’s your job to facilitate the problem-solving process.  Taking a hands-off approach while staying actively engaged sends the message that you welcome input, ideas, and solutions from others.  
  2. Ask questions and listen.  It’s critical that you show open-mindedness and curiosity by asking open-ended questions and practicing active listening skills.
  3. Acknowledge the ideas of others.  Every statement, idea, or possible solution from others should be encouraged and acknowledged.  Suggest that team members expand on their ideas by saying things to them like: “What would that like look like if…..?”  or, “How did you handle this type of situation before?”
  4. Model a learning zone culture by looking at mistakes as opportunities.  When mistakes happen or initiatives don’t go as planned find the gems that can be used going forward.  Conduct a Lessons Learned meeting or an After-Action Review (AAR) to analyze how things can be done better next time.
  5. Give your team the authority to collaborate without you.  Many leaders are too far into the weeds with their team.  There may be reasons for this but, ultimately, give your team the trust and flexibility they need to move forward without you.
  6. When someone comes to you with a concern…handle it and handle it now.  Trust is a big factor in creating psychological safety and it goes both ways.  You need to trust your team, but they need to trust you also.  By handling things effectively and efficiently you are building rapport and dependability with your direct reports.  They will see that you take their concerns seriously and that you have their back.

Building a culture of psychological safety takes time but these are six things you can begin doing now that will have an immediate impact.

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