Is Your Team Psychologically Safe?

Studies say a team where each member feels psychologically safe often becomes a high performing team. 

Let me share a story.

Last few months, I was observing different teams’ effectiveness as we all started working remotely due to COVID-19 situation and was exploring the topic of need for psychological safety in teams. 

In weekends, I spoke to few leaders across the world. During one of the chats, I asked one of the leaders who is based in London and leads a large team about how he is dealing the situation differently since people are much more vulnerable due to the pandemic situation and being locked down/working from remote? I was sure the team is missing the face to face interaction and support from him and I thought he will talk about it.

However, the leader’s reply surprised me, he said for his team nothing has changed and it is business as usual. As I inquired further, he said he has a team which is well knit and stays together. Every member trusts other members and there is seldom any politics in the team. As a team they have set few boundaries for themselves, agreed on values that the team will follow and it works perfectly, like for example they meet on everyday basis virtually, no one can talk at anyone’s back, any idea needs to be listened into, opinions are respected and debated before taking a decision. 

He said, in last 2 years the team has earned many awards, exceeded expectations in most projects, the attrition in his team is close to zero and he believes all that was possible because every member feels safe and valued. He also said for his team, everyone has an entrepreneurial mindset which helps them to discuss new ideas, share thoughts openly even if they are stupid and that is only possible as they feel safe. 

Finally, he opined that as a leader, his main job was to ensure the team has a shared vision and values, operates within the rules of the organization and boundaries and that is what drives his success as a leader.  

I enjoyed the conversation, and thought of putting this article together to share how we all can ensure a psychologically safe team by encouraging our team members to: 

  1. Agree on team values: To drive a safe environment, as a leader one needs to agree on the values that the team will stand on, and remind the team periodically. Thus, spend time on defining the values. It is also important to call out inappropriate behaviors if needed that might damage psychological safety of the team.
  2. No judgement rule: As a leader one needs to pronounce the confidence among each team members that they can be themselves in the team and they will be accepted as they are. This means, they should be free to share their ideas, challenge each other’s thoughts without being afraid of being judged and be natural. 
  3. Conflict is okay: In corporate world conflict is often seen as negative, however I see in a different way. If the conflict is not targeted for personal win or loss or to satisfy one’s own ego, conflict can be healthy & positive. The team needs to be matured enough to deal with it in a manner that will enhance the performance of the team.  
  4. Be creative: Any idea will be welcomed, how irrelevant those may sound at the first go. Each idea will be evaluated as needed and as a leader one needs to ensure that each member of the team knows that their contribution is respected and valued. As a leader one needs to encourage exploration of new ideas keeping the end goal in mind.
  5. Stand for each other: A team which thrives on psychological safety will complement each other and stand by each other. Together they will complete the puzzle. No one is perfect and no one has all the qualities that is required in a team to succeed. As a leader you need to demonstrate that it is okay to make mistakes and accept it, one won’t be punished. This simple ideology gives the team huge psychological safety.
  6. Curiosity is key: A curious mind always breeds new ideas, as a leader one needs to ensure that team is in a safe space to breed curiosity and explore new avenues. As a leader, you also need be curious and ask questions as needed which will demonstrate that you as a leader also need to know more than you know, which will give the team the confidence to ask relevant questions. 
  7. Trust: No team can excel if there is no trust among the members and a leader needs to show trust on each of the member in the team. A leader needs to promote a culture where each member trusts the other person in the team, and that can only happen if every one feels equally safe in the team . 
  8. Feedback: Feedback is an important tool for anyone, and when a leader ensures that the team is psychologically safe, feedbacks will flow in. A leader needs to ensure that the feedbacks are handled with respect and are taken into consideration as they move forward. Thus, giving and receiving on-time and adequate feedback is an important task of a leader.

As a leader let us create an atmosphere where every member of the team participates without judgement or with a fear to being judged, willing to take risk even at the cost of failure, voices their opinion and not feel insecure at any point of time. 

I often wonder can we measure psychological safety? While I read about certain measures, I am not sure if we need to convert that into a metrics. In my mind, it is probably a kind of feeling that exits in a team that would determine the success of the team and will tell us that the team feels safe with each other and thus I won’t be too fussy to measure it.

What are your views? Look forward to your comments and opinion.

Disclaimer: The author is the Global Head of Finance Operations for a Dutch MNC based in Amsterdam. The comments/observations in this article are purely from his personal experience/learning and has no relation to his current or past employer(s)or their opinion.