Have you ever shared an idea only to be mocked and ridiculed? Unfortunately, most of us have been there are one time or another, leading to a reluctance to speak up in future. Such events can hurt the individual, the team and the organisation.
As a people manager and leader, it is your responsibility to support your team in a way that helps them feel engaged with their work and perform to the best of their ability. To achieve this, leaders must create psychological safety at work.
Fostering an environment where people feel they can share their ideas, raise concerns, take risks, and express themselves freely is vital to unlocking their full potential.
What is Psychological Safety?
Psychological safety refers to team members’ belief in whether they can raise concerns, take risks, and contribute ideas without fear of negative consequences or judgment.
In a psychologically safe environment, people feel comfortable being vulnerable around colleagues and openly sharing their thoughts and ideas. They are more likely to admit mistakes or ask for support when needed. It builds a climate of trust and mutual respect, where everyone’s contributions are valued and encouraged.
It goes beyond mere physical safety or compliance with policies. Psychological safety encompasses the emotional wellbeing of team members and acknowledges that feeling safe and supported is vital for optimal performance and personal growth.
Psychological safety fosters an atmosphere where individuals are willing to step out of their comfort zones, challenge the status quo, and engage in productive dialogue that leads to innovation and continuous improvement.
Why Does Psychological Safety Matter at Work?
Here are some of the benefits that can be realised when leaders create psychological safety at work:
- Improved employee wellbeing and mental health.
- Increased employee engagement and productivity.
- Enhanced creativity and innovation.
- Reduced sickness and employee turnover rates.
People who lack psychological safety experience anxiety and are less likely to share their ideas or take measured risks, which stifles innovation, hinders teamwork and limits their potential. Additionally, it causes a decline in job satisfaction, disengagement, and high turnover rates.
Unfortunately, many employees don’t feel their workplace offers a psychologically safe environment. This is supported by research from Gallup, which revealed that only 30% of employees involved in the study strongly agreed that their opinions counted at work. The study also revealed that companies that raised the ratio to 60% or higher experienced a 27% decrease in employee turnover.
Psychological safety was rated as the top predictor of a team’s performance in a Google study on the traits of high-performing teams. According to Google’s research, groups that have a high level of psychological safety are less fearful of the repercussions of taking calculated chances, making mistakes, and being open with one another about their views and beliefs. As a result, there was more innovation, teamwork, and initiative-taking when it mattered the most.
Now that we know how crucial psychological safety is let’s look at how to gauge its presence in groups and organisations.
Measuring Psychological Safety
Measuring psychological safety enables leaders and managers to gain valuable insights into how people feel, current levels of psychological safety and identify areas for improvement. This information can then serve as a foundation for leaders to develop targeted strategies and action plans.
Surveys and Questionnaires
Surveys and questionnaires are widely used tools to measure psychological safety. They typically consist of carefully crafted questions that assess employees’ perceptions of safety, trust, and openness in the workplace. The surveys can be administered anonymously to encourage honest responses. The data collected provides quantitative insights into the level of psychological safety at work.
Allowing anonymous feedback allows employees to share their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions without fearing reprisal. In addition to surveys and questionnaires, other examples include suggestion boxes or online platforms, which can also provide valuable qualitative insights into psychological safety.
Observation and Open Communication Channels
Observation and open communication channels can be valuable ways to collate quantitative and qualitative data regarding psychological safety. Managers can observe team dynamics, paying attention to trust, collaboration, and openness among team members.
Engaging in conversations and informal discussions with employees also provides valuable data. However, for open discussions and interviews to be of value, there needs to be an element of psychological safety already in place.
Using Measurement Results to Improve Psychological Safety
Once your results are in, ensure you dedicate time to interpreting them and identifying patterns, trends, and areas where psychological safety may be lacking. Next, develop action plans that address the specific needs of the team or organisation to improve psychological safety. Involve team members in the process, seeking their input and collaboration to ensure ownership and buy-in.
It’s important to note that measuring psychological safety is not a one-time event. Regular assessments should be conducted to track progress, evaluate the effectiveness of the changes made, and make necessary adjustments as the team or organisation evolves.
By continuously measuring and acting on the results, managers and leaders can create an environment where psychological safety thrives, improving wellbeing, engagement, and productivity.
9 Ways Leaders Can Create Psychology Safety at Work
1. Lead by Example
Leading by example is a powerful way to create psychological safety within your team. As a leader, your behaviours and actions set the tone for the work environment. Here are two examples of how you can lead by example:
Acknowledge your own fallibility and share personal experiences demonstrating vulnerability. This helps to humanise your leadership and create an atmosphere where it’s acceptable to admit mistakes, seek help, and learn from failures. By showing vulnerability, you encourage others to do the same, fostering a climate of trust and psychological safety.
Model and promote open and honest communication within your team. Actively listen to your employees, validate their ideas, and create space for everyone to share their thoughts without fear of judgment. Encourage constructive feedback and facilitate transparent discussions. When individuals feel their opinions are respected, it builds trust and strengthens psychological safety.
2. Manage Expectations and Establish Clear Goals
Setting clear goals and managing expectations are for creating psychological safety at work. When people understand what is expected of them, they can perform their duties with confidence and clarity.
Ensure that the goals you set for your team are realistic and achievable. Unrealistic expectations can lead to stress, burnout, and a fear of failure. Collaborate with your team to establish challenging yet attainable targets and provide the necessary resources and support to help them succeed.
Regularly provide constructive, specific, and timely feedback. Recognise and acknowledge the efforts and achievements of your team members and offer guidance to help them improve. Feedback should focus on behaviours and outcomes rather than personal attacks. Providing guidance and support fosters an environment where continuous growth and improvement are valued.
3. Promote Collaboration and Team Building
Promoting collaboration and team building enhances psychological safety by fostering a sense of belonging and inclusivity.
Create opportunities for people to collaborate and work together on projects. Encourage brainstorming sessions, cross-functional collaborations, and knowledge-sharing activities. Emphasise the value of diverse perspectives and encourage everyone to contribute their unique insights. Psychological safety thrives when individuals feel that their contributions are valued and respected.
Celebrate diversity and promote a culture that appreciates and respects different backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas. Encourage people to share their experiences and foster a sense of belonging by organising team-building activities and fostering positive relationships among team members.
4. Encourage Learning and Growth
Encouraging learning and growth within your team helps to foster psychological safety and continuous improvement.
Support your team members’ professional growth by providing learning and skill development opportunities. This could include training programs, workshops, conferences, or mentoring initiatives. When individuals see that their development is a priority, they feel supported and valued, leading to increased psychological safety.
Promote a growth mindset and encourage your team members to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see failures as learning opportunities. By fostering a growth mindset, you create an environment where individuals feel safe to take risks and explore new possibilities.
5. Embrace Constructive Feedback
Constructive feedback is essential for creating psychological safety, allowing individuals to grow and improve while feeling supported.
Establish a culture where feedback is seen as a positive and constructive tool for growth rather than a personal attack. Encourage open and respectful communication and create a safe space for team members to provide feedback to one another and you as a manager. This can be achieved through regular feedback sessions, one-on-one meetings, or anonymous channels.
When providing feedback, focus on specific behaviours, examples and outcomes you wish to achieve. Avoid referring to personal attributes. This helps individuals understand how their actions impact others and the overall team. Frame feedback in a way that encourages growth and improvement, offering suggestions for alternative approaches or solutions.
6. Foster a Culture of Trust and Respect
Creating a culture of trust and respect is foundational for psychological safety.
Demonstrating trust in your team members’ abilities and decisions. Delegate responsibilities and provide autonomy in decision-making whenever possible. This empowers individuals to take ownership of their work, develops confidence, and strengthens psychological safety.
Show you value and respect perspectives, experiences, and ideas from those with different backgrounds, experiences and thinking styles within your team. Encourage active participation from all team members and foster an environment where everyone feels heard and respected. When individuals feel that their contributions matter, they are more likely to engage actively and feel psychologically safe.
7. Encourage Healthy Conflict Resolution
Conflict is a natural part of any workplace, but how it is managed can impact psychological safety. There is a misconception that conflict resolution responsibilities lie with leaders and managers. However, all employees should be encouraged to manage conflict.
Equip your team members with the skills necessary to handle conflicts constructively. Provide training and resources to help individuals navigate disagreements and resolve disputes in a healthy and respectful manner. Encourage active listening, empathy, and finding common ground.
When conflicts arise, mediate and facilitate open dialogue between the team members. Encourage individuals to express their perspectives and concerns while fostering an environment of understanding and empathy. Help the team find mutually agreeable solutions and guide them in rebuilding trust and maintaining psychological safety.
8. Provide Autonomy and Empowerment
Providing autonomy and empowerment to your team members is crucial for fostering psychological safety.
Delegate tasks to team members, taking into account their skills, interests, and developmental goals. Communicate expectations and provide the necessary support, but also give individuals the freedom to approach tasks in their own way. This autonomy helps individuals feel trusted, respected, and empowered.
But remember that balancing autonomy with guidance is essential. Be available to answer questions, provide resources, and offer guidance when needed. Ensure team members know they can seek help or clarification without fear of judgment. By striking this balance, you promote independence, self-confidence, and psychological safety.
9. Continuously Evaluate and Improve
Creating psychological safety is an ongoing process that requires evaluation and adaptation. Here are a few ways that you can do this:
Regularly Assess the Team’s Progress: Regularly evaluate the team’s dynamics, communication patterns, and overall psychological safety. Use surveys, feedback sessions, or team assessments to gauge the current state of psychological safety within the team. This evaluation helps identify areas for improvement and guides your efforts in creating a safer and more supportive work environment.
Adapt and Refine Strategies as Needed: Based on the feedback and assessment results, adapt and refine your strategies to enhance psychological safety further. Be open to experimentation and try new approaches to address gaps or challenges. Continuously seek input from your team members and involve them. This collaborative approach ensures that the solutions are relevant, effective, and well-received by the team.
Celebrate Progress and Success: Acknowledge and celebrate your progress in building psychological safety within your team. Recognise the efforts of individuals who contribute to fostering a safe and supportive environment. Celebrating milestones and successes reinforces the importance of psychological safety and encourages continued efforts to maintain and improve it.
Seek Professional Development: Consider seeking professional development opportunities for yourself as a manager to enhance your knowledge and skills in creating psychological safety. Attend workshops, conferences, or training programs focused on effective leadership, communication, and fostering a positive work environment. Continuous learning and growth as a manager will contribute to your ability to create and sustain psychological safety within your team.
Recommended read: The Benefits of Executive Coaching for High-Potential Leaders
In summary, creating psychological safety at work is essential for your team’s wellbeing, productivity, and innovation. By measuring psychological safety and implementing practical strategies, you can cultivate a work environment where individuals feel safe to take risks, share ideas, and collaborate openly.
Remember, creating psychological safety is an ongoing process that requires commitment and continuous evaluation. Celebrate progress and success along the way and seek professional development opportunities to enhance your skills as a manager.
By implementing these strategies, you can create a work environment where individuals thrive, feel supported, and are empowered to bring their authentic selves to work. Start implementing these tips today and create a psychologically safe and thriving workplace for your team.
Contact us if you’d like to discuss how Delphinium can help you develop psychological safety within your team.
Author: Gemma Rolstone | Published 20th June 2023.