Psychological Safety : the common denominator behind thriving teams12th May 2021
Wellbeing at work starts with Culture
Typically, companies look at wellbeing at work in terms of mental health and practical support, but often overlook what lies behind corporate wellbeing, which is company culture. Indeed, a positive and healthy company culture is the baseline of happy and fulfilled employees who make companies thrive.
Positive company cultures all have one thing in common, they possess and display psychological safety. This is in fact one of the key factors which makes teams successful. But what exactly is psychological safety?
Psychological Safety as a core element of positive company culture
Psychological safety is the notion used to describe how it feels to be comfortable at work, feel free to share opinions, good and bad, and take risks without fearing negative consequences, whether they are internal (e.g losing face or status in front of others) or interactional (e.g. getting reprimanded for speaking up or expressing truthful opinions).
For instance, it could be expressing your concerns when you think something is wrong, feeling safe to speak up and share ideas, offer different propositions etc., regardless of your teammates ranking or position (e.g for instance not being scared to tell your manager they’ve made a mistake).
This can look pretty straightforward on paper and a given in modern workplaces, however this is a delicate and precarious dynamic that needs to be first fostered and then maintained.
As employees typically like to present their ‘best’ self at work, it is likely that they would hinder what they truly think due to a variety of reasons e.g work politics, being afraid of looking incompetent etc. Hence, they might be scared to ask questions, express their truthful opinions or challenge the status quo. In turn, they might be doubtful about challenging these preconceptions in order to bring more to their workplace. This is closely related to the work environment and the company culture in place. However, these behaviours overtime would consequently impact the company’s output and the atmosphere in the team. For instance, long term consequences might be a loss of creativity and innovation or high levels of turnover.
On the other hand, when employees feel safe in their work environment, they will be confident to speak up, present their ideas, report mistakes and be open about expressing their truthful opinions and concerns, without the fear of being reprimanded or looked down upon as they will have the support and encouragement of their team members and leaders. They will be more creative and innovative as they will have room and encouragement to think outside the box and take risks.
A climate to be fostered from the top down
As described earlier, psychological safety is intrinsically cultural. Hence, for employees to feel safe, behaviours that encourage psychological safety need to be role-modeled from the top down. If leaders and managers are not displaying such behaviours, e.g admitting mistakes, being vulnerable, being open and honest, there is little chance that employees will feel safe in regards to their contribution and to take risks. Behaviours which can be modelled by leaders that can inspire other employees to feel psychologically safe and act accordingly are for instance – being approachable, open to input and feedback and having acceptance and openness about fallibility. In return, team members will feel safe to act in the same way, be more open to take risks and express opinions without fearing negative consequences.
Therefore, team members will be able to express a diverse range of opinions and propositions which will make the team more intellectually diverse, creative and impactful in return. They will also be likely to enjoy their work environment, and be more productive, making the business more successful in return, and reducing turnover. Win-win!
Psychological safety is what creates high performing teams, thanks to higher engagement and motivation for employees, and a positive work environment. This also fosters a culture of wellbeing from the ground up and will make a positive impact on your employee mental health. Something to think about on this Mental Health Awareness week 🙂
If you’re interested in knowing more about psychology safety and how you can foster it in your teams, feel free to reach out to us for more information and/or an informal chat at [email protected]