Articles // September 09,2022

Embracing cultures of psychological safety in your organization

By Meenakshi Girish , Editor - Kavitha Chandrasekhar

Visualize this scenario, you are part of an important large client engagement. It is a big step for your career growth, and you have taken a risk. In the mid of the engagement, you find an urgent message from the client. Something in the engagement is gone awry, the client is unhappy, and you are responsible for it. How do you feel?

Do you want to run away avoiding the issue and let it sort out on its own? You are dreading the idea of communicating it to your manager and drawing out a plan of action. 

Or do you want to start making amends and come up with a solution? After all you know your whole team and your manager has your back. Yes, you did accept a challenging engagement and it did not go right. But anything can be solved with support of your colleagues. 

We hope it is the latter for you, as it would mean you feel psychologically safe in your organization. 

Let’s talk about psychological safety and delve deeper into its importance in workplaces!

What does psychological safety look like in organizations?

Simply put, if you can voice your thoughts and ideas freely, without fear of repercussions and you are in an environment where your managers and colleagues encourage you to be your best, then you are in a psychologically safe space. If you are faced with a toxic environment, people who dismiss or mock your efforts, and display negative feedback – well, it’s time for a change.

“It is the art of getting yourself to work every day and not hiding portions of who you are with a fear of humiliation or judgment. I used to work at a company that had people far older than me on the team. I used to find it hard to engage with them and they would dismiss my ideas often. They would point out my mistakes and make me repent even the smallest errors – I feared speaking up and had no growth,” said a freelance journalist based in Bangalore.

Overall, a psychologically safe environment can help you bring your authentic selves to workplace and feel free to voice your concerns, ideas, questions, and mistakes without fear. By making your organization psychologically safe, you can use the full potential of your employees and ensure that they are committed to the task.

How do I find out if my environment is psychologically safe for my team?

One telltale sign of a psychologically safe team is trust. Do your team members respect and trust each other? Does the culture promote collaboration and the freedom to take risks? Do you drive innovation without questioning the potential of your team?

There are few signs of psychological safety you can keep an eye out for:

  • Do your employees feel included in projects and have a sense of belonging with the team? Are they comfortable being themselves and feeling accepted for who they are? Do they feel safe showing the capabilities and characteristics that define them? Are they welcome to contribute where they can and not feel excluded if they don’t have any contributions?
  • Does your environment allow your team to learn and grow? Is the feedback given and received constructive? Do your employees feel safe while asking even basic questions and clarifying doubts? Are you giving them the space to make mistakes and experiment?
  • Do they have the authority to challenge and speak up even to superiors? Is there a strict hierarchy in your company that junior employees cannot penetrate? Even if they find errors in what their superiors are saying or doing, do they have the authority to challenge them? Is the feedback and growth in your team one-sided or do you pose opportunities for everyone to improve?

If you could resonate with these questions and answer them in the affirmative, then your organization welcomes psychological safety. Your employees feel safe and heard – they can use their voices and suggest ideas and changes. If not, then keep reading to know how you can make your environment safe for your team.

Building a nurturing and psychologically safe environment

Sripriyaa Venkataraman, Founder, Leadership and Executive Coach at Global Coaching Lab says,

“Today, it has become especially important for organizations to build psychological safety in their teams and as a culture within the organization. The fulcrum for such a culture could be your managers and a simple framework that can help your managers to build psychological safety can be as simple as A.B.C.D.”

She goes on to elaborate that A.B.C.D. stand for

 A – Awareness – How are your managers improving their peripheral vision towards issues surrounding “psychological safety”? Are they simply busy performing in an autopilot mode or are they building their abilities to pause and intuit the team’s psychological needs

B – Behaviours – How are your managers able to have non-judgemental, mature conversations in an inclusive manner with their team member to understand the beliefs behind their behaviours

C- Choices – How are your managers helping their team members to make the right choices under such circumstances

D – Decisions – How are your managers enabling better decisions and action to help their teams to perform without fear and use their voices in an environment of safety

Here are three primary ways you can build a safe and inclusive environment for your teams:

#1 Make it your priority and encourage involvement

How do you become a better writer? By writing more. How do you become a better singer or dancer? By singing and dancing more often. So, how do you make your environment safer for your employees? By making it a priority and speaking about it more to make it explicit.

This is how you cement the idea of psychological safety in your team’s minds – by speaking about it and connecting it to a higher purpose. Give them an idea about which best practices are welcome and the behaviors you encourage. Encourage your team to be more empathetic and open-minded to welcome new employees and their ideas.

#2 Redefine failure as learning experiences

Negativity can easily be turned into positivity by changing the way we look at it. You can encourage your employees to tell their mistakes and failures with pride to help others learn and avoid the same errors. It is an effective way to set an example and admit errors – you can detect the source of the problem sooner and get started on the solution.

This will welcome people to ask for help and work as a team. Encourage people to say ‘we’ instead of ‘me’ – every victory is a team effort, and every failure is also shouldered by the whole team. This way, an individual is not blamed for failure. The entire team can celebrate success or take the mistake as a learning experience and move on.

“In my office, we believe in the power of failures. Every week, we have a meeting to discuss what we learned that week. We quote our experiences and mistakes normally and nobody judges anyone – even for silly mistakes. The thing is, we don’t have enough time in our lives to make every possible mistake and learn from them. We can learn from others’ mistakes by welcoming them to share. This is the mindset my manager has inculcated in our team,” said a sales rep from a management firm in Chennai.

#3 Constructive feedback and the power of two-way communication

Having a two-way dialogue and facilitating a strong feedback culture is very valuable in a company’s ability to succeed. Communication is the key to teams that trust and respect each other. Enable and give space for consistent and open communication among your teams without fear of humiliation or punishment. Feedback should be given with the motive of growth and improvement in teams – not to point out mistakes and reject employees.

Each person should be given the space to propose their ideas in their way. “My manager welcomes us to share the wildest ideas without worrying about others laughing at us. He does this by starting the meeting with a crazy idea of his own and throwing around wild ideas which make all of us laugh. This sets the stage for crazy ideas from our end and learning to laugh at ourselves without judgment,” said a content writer at a popular marketing agency in Bangalore.

There are times when people don’t feel comfortable voicing ideas in public. You can welcome them to have informal conversations or brainstorming sessions with you to combat this. Maybe ask them to approach you at random while you are grabbing coffee at the canteen. Or to walk up to you while you are at the water cooler. Maybe a quick chat during a team lunch and so on.

What happens if your teams don’t feel psychologically safe?

If there is no space for teams to innovate and spark discussions, communication and trust will fade. A lack of these elements will result in disoriented teams that are afraid to speak up and contribute to their utmost potential.

If teams don’t feel safe, they won’t feel like taking risks and staying accountable. They will fall into fight-or-flight responses and try to distance themselves from responsibilities that might hold them accountable. You would have no diversity of thought and things would fall into a monotonous norm to stay ‘safe’.

There would be no communication or knowledge sharing among teams. The company won’t learn from the mistakes or findings of an employee. Teams get defensive and choose to disengage from conflicts. The team would be unequipped to manage failures as they have been too scared to make mistakes in the past.

The team is too scared to get vulnerable and take risks. They don’t value learning and curiosity owing to a fear of getting blamed if their experiments go wrong. It could lead to burnout or a loss of their sense of innovation. They avoid ridicule and punishment by staying indifferent and not volunteering to accept roles.

Summing up

We have proved that psychologically safe teams perform better and share enhanced creativity. They welcome mistakes and learn from them without subjecting the person to ridicule or punishment. Ideas are welcomed and the team consists of open-minded people who provide constructive feedback.

People can experiment and trust their team to support them while taking risks. They can voice their views even if it is to challenge a person of authority higher up the ladder. It leads to teams that bounce back quickly from failure and learn from them. People feel safe while asking doubts and receiving feedback.

By building an engaged team that feels psychologically safe in your workspace, you are opening avenues for other employees to experiment and speak up. See yourself and your business soaring with such a space?

Click here to learn more and switch to a psychologically safe organization with employees who have healthy mental health!

 

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In my career leading and building high-performing teams, I enjoy inspiring & coaching employees to unlock their potential for maximum performance. The team's success is my deepest delight. Global Coaching Lab provides the platform to put this into practice every day and fulfill my passion of making others great.




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