How would you rate the psychological safety of your team?
I recently took an assessment based on Dr. Amy Edmonson’s book The Fearless Organization to better understand how my department compared with groups in other companies on multiple dimensions of psychological safety. The results were fascinating and provided some great ideas on how to make our positive dynamics even stronger.
It also got me thinking about what steps managers can take to build more trusting teams. While psychological safety has long been recognized as an important factor in group success, organizations are growing even more aware of how essential it is as our world and work rapidly evolve.
For example, employee wellness has become a greater priority as individuals navigate stress and cope with the disconnection that can come from remote or hybrid work. To engage individuals, it’s important to create an environment where staff feel a sense of belonging and are open to sharing concerns when they arise.
Managers are also leading their teams through a great deal of change, which means your people are learning new skills and taking on different responsibilities. With those adaptations, mistakes are likely inevitable – and employees need to be comfortable owning up to errors to advance new ways of operating.
As the business landscape continues to transform, innovation will be essential. If you want your colleagues to share new ideas that challenge the status quo and push your organization forward, they will need to have a corporate climate where they can take risks without fear of punishment.
To build the psychologically safe culture that employees need to thrive in the future of work, one of the best things a manager can do is to model the way.
Four Practices to Enhance Psychological Safety
#1 – Own Your Imperfections
Sometimes, team leaders feel like they need to be perfect and have all of the solutions. That’s not a realistic expectation for anyone. It can also set an unhealthy tone for staff who may start to think they must be perfect to advance in their careers or within your company. To help employees recognize that it’s ok to take some risks and make mistakes, share your own.
When you try something and it doesn’t go well, let your people know about it. Explain the risk you were taking, acknowledge the misstep that was made and share what you learned in the process. I also encourage you to describe what you are going to do differently when you try again to demonstrate that you have and value a growth mindset.
#2 – Remove Judgment
When a challenge or error presents itself, try to approach the situation with curiosity. Be careful not to make assumptions or cast any judgments based on how you prefer to work. A better practice is to ask questions and be an active, empathetic listener. Do your best to keep the conversation focused on the topic at hand and identify possible next steps, leaving blame out of the discussion.
I do recognize this recommendation is easier said than done, particularly when stress is high. Still, when you can approach a problem with curiosity and empathy, that will go a long way in creating an environment where people are willing to surface issues, own up to errors and collaborate on solutions.
#3 – Practice Flexing
Flexing allows us to put ourselves in others’ shoes. Using Emergenetics®, it involves understanding your colleagues’ preferred ways of Thinking and Behaving and making an effort to meet them halfway. Flexing is a powerful tool, and it can look awkward. For example, when I try to match someone else’s Thinking preferences, I don’t always succeed, and it is always a great learning opportunity!
Be vocal when you are trying to shift your mindset to better support your coworkers and acknowledge that it feels scratchy. When they see that you are trying, it will be easier for staff to stretch outside of their comfort zones, embrace alternative viewpoints and boost psychological safety by being more inclusive of different approaches.
#4 – Ask for Feedback
Encourage your team members to come to you with ideas for improvement and listen openly when they share input. To get started, solicit feedback on a safe topic, like when you’ve just tried to flex into an Attribute that is not one of your preferences. Ask your employees if your actions met their needs or if they have other ideas that they recommend you try. You can also seek out advice when you make a mistake to get your coworkers’ thoughts on potential solutions.
As you make progress with low-stakes questions, you can ask for input on topics that are perceived as being riskier like feedback on your management style. As long as you listen and demonstrate your appreciation for the learning opportunity, you can help your staff recognize that you welcome their ideas to make improvements.
Making mistakes can be scary, particularly if any staff members have worked at a company where errors were not accepted. By demonstrating that you are willing to take risks, have a growth mindset and embrace all perspectives, it will be much easier for your employees to follow your lead. As you model the way toward psychological safety, you will also inspire greater trust, better understanding and enhanced performance.
Help your hybrid team create the conditions for psychological safety by exploring our latest guide.
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