[4 minute read]
Imagine, you arrive to work and greet your coworkers—you are all laughing and drinking coffee, as you walk in to your daily meeting. At the end of the meeting, the leader asks the same question you have become accustomed to hearing that typically goes without a response: “Does anyone have any feedback?” You muster up the courage to speak up today, but are confronted with ridicule, interruption and criticism (not the constructive kind) from your coworkers.
The next day, your morning begins the same, but now you are reluctant to share your thoughts because you do not want to feel incompetent or unsupportive. If you can relate to this scenario, we can assure you that you are not alone.
These situations happen all the time in the workplace and it is up to the leader to recognize this type of culture is not productive. By using a few of our favorite tips, a leader can reap the benefits of a speak up culture by creating a psychologically safe workplace.
What is Psychological Safety?
Harvard Business School professor, Amy Edmonson, defines psychological safety as, “a belief that one will not be punished for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”1 A psychologically safe environment offers a comfortable setting that allows for risks and vulnerability; promoting a culture where individuals can openly speak up without fear of retribution, odd looks or awkward feelings of embarrassment and frustration that may follow.
Pixar exemplifies a psychologically safe environment during their regularly scheduled “BrainTrust” meetings.2 “BrainTrust” meetings are focused on the newest version of a Pixar movie, where employees are encouraged to speak up politely with candid thoughts and questions. This is where colleagues point out why the storyline is confusing, where the jokes do not deliver and which characters lack emotion. Even though this feedback can be painfully awkward to receive and deliver, this is where the movies get better. Successful companies make it a priority to discuss the uncomfortable and provide a platform for every employee to speak up because there are major benefits.
What are the benefits of Psychological Safety?
In a 2015 Google study on successful teams researchers found psychological safety was the most important factor in determining a team’s effectiveness.3 In addition to team effectiveness, psychological safety can improve:
- Personal and organizational innovation5
- Employee engagement4
- Job satisfaction6
- Personal and organizational performance 4,5
When an employee is safe to speak up without the threatening consequences of embarrassment or punishment, more ideas are shared and employee confidence boosts because members now have a voice.
5 Tips for Leaders to Improve Psychological Safety
- Proactively invite input: As a leader, it is important to ask questions and refrain from adding input just for the sake of sounding like you know more than those around you. You can remind your employees why it is important for them to speak up and respond appreciatively when they do. Consider implementing weekly meetings to discuss upcoming events or projects to stay connected to your team and practice candid, polite feedback.
- Respond strategically when mistakes are made: As a leader, you have to delegate to be effective and avoid burnout. Sometimes when we delegate, the task is not completed correctly or the way we asked. Instead of taking the task away, consider how you can help that person grow and learn how to complete it correctly. Encourage your employees to ask questions and speak up if they do not understand a task and check in with them to support their progress.
- Stop, Breathe, Think: Try not to be reactive. As a leader when you propose a new initiative, you need to ask for feedback. When we hear feedback we do not like, then it is natural to react negatively. Take this as an opportunity to recognize without honest input, you cannot truly make a sound decision. By being less reactive to an employee’s opinions, you are laying the foundation for them to speak up the next time you want their input.
- Ask for help and know your weaknesses: If there is something you are working on that you know is another person’s strength, then ask for help. Change your mindset of, “I am the leader, so I know all the answers, and I am in complete control.” As a leader, there is a responsibility to help others perform well. You can use these opportunities to ask questions and motivate your employees to speak up on topics they are confident on.
- Care about your employees as people: Share genuine responses to their wins and loses—be empathetic. Actively listen, this means closing your computer screen and actually looking at the person during one-to-one meetings. Have you ever tried to tell a coworker something important while they are looking at their computer or their phone? It is frustrating and often results in you having to repeat yourself later. Simply taking the time to listen and show you care for another’s well-being, will support your employees to speak up and feel heard.
Anyone in the workplace knows we spend much of our time in meetings working together with our coworkers to achieve our company’s objectives and it is difficult to do this well without psychological safety. Ultimately, psychological safety and a speak up culture can improve your team’s effectiveness and give employees the confidence they need to honestly respond to leaders when they ask, “Does anyone have any feedback, thoughts, or concerns?”
Ready to implement psychological safety in your workplace?
This was just the start on how you can build psychological safety by creating a speak up culture at work. You can learn how a team being fearful to make mistakes prevents growth, learning, and ultimately a group’s performance, by visiting a previous HigherEchelonTM blog post by LTG (Ret) Bob Caslen. If you are interested in how to build a culture where your employees speak up, contact HigherEchelonTM today!
- Edmondson, A. The Power of teaming: Team up, fail well, learn fast. Retrieved from http://strongminded.nl/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Teaming-Amy-Edmondson.pdf
- Coyle, D. (2018). The culture code: The secrets to highly successful groups. New York: Bantam.
- Rozovsky, J. (2015). The five keys to a successful Google team. Re: Work. Retrieved from https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/
- Herway, J. (2017). How to create a culture of psychological safety. Gallup Workplace. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236198/create-culture-psychological-safety.aspx
- Edmondson, A. (2018). The importance of psychological safety. Harvard Business Review. Retreived from https://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/article-details/the-importance-of-psychological-safety
- Caprino, K. (2018). How to build work cultures of psychological safety rather than fear. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2018/12/20/how-to-build-work-cultures-of-psychological-safety-rather-than-fear/#141915b86f69