Why Not Thinking About Psychological Safety Puts Your Team In Danger

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For many reading this, you know exactly what this title means. For others, you may be wondering what on earth is being talked about. To start with, ‘psychological safety’ is defined as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. It can be defined as ‘being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”.

In a recent study by Google (a company you may or may not have heard of) in search of what makes the perfect team, psychological safety was ranked as the number one factor in highly effective teams. Skepticism is a powerful tool in sifting through the heaps of advice and information we get in today’s era, but there’s something to think about when one of the biggest tech companies in the world spends two whole years studying 180 teams, and then comes to this finding.

The bridge from learning this and application is a simple path to follow — no company or team wants to lose members. The cost of turnover is high. The cost of scouting and hiring is high. The cost of training is high. Thinking about psychological safety is one of the ways employers and leaders can mitigate these risks.

Psychological safety put one way is the ability for someone on the team to speak their mind or offer an idea at a meeting without fear of being shut down by another team member or a superior, but the benefits and range of psychological safety can also be translated onto the field.

Coaches are, of course, the headwind for most teams, but sometimes looking at the whole picture from above can lend to them missing details someone on the ground might catch. If you have a player with a keen eye and good head on their shoulders catching things on terra firma, but they lack the psychological safety to convey their findings to the coach, the entire team might miss out on valuable opportunities to improve and learn. And at the end of the day, doesn’t every team want to get better?

So how do we increase psychological safety?

According to the Harvard Business Review, one of the best things to do is to have the team take an assessment to establish a baseline on how safe employees feel. From there, it’s a matter of adjustments to neutralize the different ways employees can be put in danger psychologically. For example, an employee makes a mistake on a report or a datasheet. Instead of the default becoming blame — you messed this up — turn it into a curiosity that can be explored as a team — let’s see how we can solve this. Even from this simple example, the difference in tone and protection for the employee is crystal clear. Indeed, clear communication is paramount in employee’s understanding of what boundaries they can operate in. Misunderstanding and miscommunication lie at the heart of any conflict; the clearer the communication, the lower the chance for misconstruing to occur.

In tandem with thinking about ‘fit’ (if you haven’t, read our article about that here), adding a conscious effort towards psychological safety is putting another tool in the box of ultimate success for a company or team.

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