psy·cho·log·i·cal /ˌsīkəˈläjək(ə)l/ adjective: psychological
of, affecting, or arising in the mind; related to the mental and emotional state of a person. "the victim had sustained physical and psychological damage"
safe·ty /ˈsāftē/ noun: safety the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury. "they should leave for their own safety"
Psychological safety is one of the most important aspects of my role as a Change Leader. Establishing a safe environment for people to work together to solve complex problems or have difficult discussions gives opportunity for change to not just happen, but to flourish.
Organizations like to talk about psychological safety; they like to think they have psychological safety in reams, but when it comes down to it, many organizations don't. My former mentor used to say to me, "Politics are local. I trust my Member of Parliament, but I don't trust Parliament. That's how it is in change." I think this is the case with psychological safety in the workplace, because we innately create pockets of trust within our sphere of influence, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we trust the bigger machine. Lack of psychological safety leads to a disengaged and fearful workforce. Impacting motivation, commitment, morale, problem solving and ultimately... productivity and profitability.
If organizations had true psychological safety, there would be no need for anonymous pulse surveys or anonymous posts on a company-wide Town Hall meeting. People would feel safe and comfortable asking any question or providing any level of feedback to their leadership teams. This is a tough nut to crack, but it's one that we work hard to establish and preserve inside of our company.
So .. what is psychological safety?
It’s a shared belief held by members of a team/organization/family unit that others will not embarrass, reject, or punish you for speaking up or making mistakes.
Seems pretty simple .. right?
Let me share a story ...
We recently started working with Wiley to offer DiSC assessments and solutions to our clients. These nifty tools allows you to assess your behaviours/leadership/collaboration style and then gives you insight into the areas where you thrive, and areas that you can optimize. Before we launched the product to our clients and social networks, we decided to use the tools inside of Helios. We invited all of our Partners and Consultants to perform an assessment and attend a team building facilitation to share the outcomes.
We used the tool that would assess how agile we are with our emotional intelligence; it was neat to be able to receive the report back and see where we netted out - a majority of us felt the report hit the nail right on the head (mine was ridiculously accurate!)
During the group facilitation, our Managing Partner felt that some of the assessment feedback felt a little "off" for him. He made a comment that he felt that his report was a bit off base, to which on of our Consultants openly challenged him. She was kind and respectful - there was no personal attack, she simply stated that she agreed with the report. This caught our Managing Partner off guard a bit, but he gracefully received the feedback.
It took psychological safety for:
our Managing Partner to suggest that he felt the report was off base.
our Consultant to know that she had the space to openly challenge the Managing Partner's mindset - basically confirming that she felt the report was right based on her interactions and knowledge of the Managing Partner.
the Managing Partner to receive that feedback with dignity and grace. (That's leadership, people!)
A few things came out of this ... First off, our Managing Partner felt a little crestfallen for a day or two (feedback can do that to you, and it's okay!), and secondly, our culture of honesty and psychological safety was reinforced across the team. In front of the team.
There was no backhanded response in the moment.
There was no blow back after the fact.
There was no closed door "coaching meeting" for our Consultant after the meeting.
In fact ... there was no lasting impact to our team, aside from our Managing Partner receiving feedback, that while was a bit uncomfortable, was perhaps necessary for him to grow (which he did take seriously and apply almost immediately).
This is a simple example of psychological safety - but an easy one to lean in to. So - how do we do it and how do we bring that into a client's team or organization?
Here are some tips to help you establish a culture and norm of psychological safety in your team or organization:
Make it a priority - don't just talk about it. Demonstrate it.
Facilitate everyone being able to speak up - make space for people to raise concerns, ask questions and genuinely feel heard.
Define how failure is handled - don't have hair trigger emotional (or amused) responses to the failures of others.
Invite creative and healthy conflict - conflict isn't always a bad thing!
Create space for new ideas - have an opportunity or ideas hopper where people can share their insights or creativity!
Let people engage in the way that serves them - some people need lists and others need an online digital project management software. As long as the work is getting done, let people learn and work in the ways that serve them best!
Have questions on how you can increase or introduce psychological safety to your team or organization? Want to learn more about our DiSC offerings? Reach out - a call doesn't cost a thing!