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#1 How to Create Psychological Safety in Your Team?
Plenty of research has been performed to understand what sets apart high-performing teams. What this investigation revealed is that the key lies in fostering an environment where people feel safe, motivated, and happy.
Research conducted at Google showed one characteristic that stands out as the number one factor of highest performing teams - Psychological safety.
Psychological safety means creating a team culture where individuals feel secure to openly share their mistakes and ask any question without fear of judgment.
Psychological safety creates team bonding and makes people motivated to come to the office and solve problems together as a team.
Transparency and honesty are vital in maintaining this psychological safety. Without it, problems remain hidden, negative emotions arise, and fear hinders progress. This leads to wasting valuable time on resolving issues that may not even exist or that can be solved very quickly.
If you are a manager of a team, you play an important role in fostering psychological safety. While the overall company culture also contributes significantly, it is within your power to disseminate and reinforce this culture within your team. Your team members perceive psychological safety mostly through your actions and interactions, as well as through the team dynamics they experience while collaborating.
So how do you make your workplace a psychologically safe place?
Show vulnerability and openness yourself
This is my most important advice. Share your own challenges, failures, and learning experiences with your team. Show your true self.
Managers who are open to show to the team their vulnerabilities and weaknesses are leaving room for the others to be open and share their mistakes as well. This fosters a culture where mistakes are seen as positive opportunities for growth.
In a 2018 Harvard study, it was revealed that managers who embrace their humanity and acknowledge their failings improve their reputation among their direct reports.
Alison Wood Brooks (Harvard Business School Assistant Professor) puts it nicely:
If you’re highly successful, your achievements are obvious. It’s more novel and inspiring for others to learn about your mistakes.
Let go of your ego and bridge the gap between you and your team. Remember, your role isn't to know everything or to be the person who never makes mistakes.
Instead, be the kind of leader who leads with authenticity, openness, and a growth mindset. Your team will find inspiration in your journey and be motivated to strive for excellence together.
How to show vulnerability?
I would not advise for any specific actions. Instead it’s about the subtle daily gestures that reflect your team-first mindset.
For example, acknowledge your mistakes when you could have done things better. When faced with something unfamiliar, you don't need to shy away from asking questions, acknowledge your lack of expertise and ask until everything becomes crystal clear. Having one-on-one conversations is also a great moment to show respect and empathy. Sharing your personal stories is also a good way to show your true self.
The key lies in cultivating a team-centric mindset—the appropriate actions will naturally flow from there.
Make sure everyone’s voice is heard
As a manager you need to be there for the others when they need you.
One-on-one meetings are an excellent opportunity to dedicate time and attention to each team member individually. Be an active listener during these sessions and show genuine interest in their thoughts, concerns, and ideas.
There's no need to follow a rigid formal process for one-on-one meetings. Tailor the frequency and format to accommodate each team member's needs. Some may benefit from weekly discussions, while others might prefer less frequent interactions. Treating individuals differently in this regard doesn't imply unfairness; rather, it demonstrates your commitment to supporting and being there for each team member when they need it.
Pay close attention during group discussions. Does everyone feel comfortable to openly share their opinions. Various factors such as personality, cultural background, level of seniority, and gender can influence how individuals participate in a group setting.
As a manager, it is crucial to create an inclusive environment where everyone's input is respected and valued. During group discussions, direct questions to specific team members to ensure that diverse perspectives are considered or use techniques like anonymous voting.
Recognise that some team members, particularly more introverted, might prefer to express their thoughts in a more private setting. Encourage them to share their opinions via email or during one-on-one meetings, where they may feel more at ease and willing to engage in deeper discussions.
Share feedback and ask for feedback
Feedback is powerful tool for growth.
Personal feedback is necessary for employee personal development. Team feedback, which delves into how the entire team functions, is equally vital, as it initiates healthy debates and discussions and stimulate improvement.
Liz Hilton Segel, McKinsey’s global leader of industry practices, puts it nicely:
If you approach [a difficult] conversation with a mindset that you’re bringing them a new perspective, you’re giving them a new view on the world ... it really can be something that is a gift to another person, and it is going to help them become a more effective manager or leader.
Unfortunately, many managers encounter difficulty when it comes to giving feedback. It's a common struggle. They tend to avoid conflict out of fear of upsetting the recipient or having uncomfortable conversations.
Providing upward feedback can be even more challenging. When employees are unhappy with their manager, they might hesitate to express their concerns openly. As a result, valuable insights and opportunities for improvement often remain untapped.
As a manager, your crucial role is to create a safe environment where sharing feedback is encouraged. Don't wait for formal evaluation meetings; seize every chance to provide direct feedback when you spot areas for improvement or you feel someone deserves to be praised.
And equally important, be proactive in seeking feedback from your team members. You might discover valuable insights you were unaware of. This two-way feedback process strengthens the bond between you and your team, it helps build trust and deep connection.
When providing feedback, always do so in a positive and constructive manner, avoiding unnecessary criticism. To make the feedback process smoother, consider employing a feedback giving model that fits your team’s style. These models are designed to make giving feedback easier and more positive, ensuring a win-win situation for everyone involved!
Take a break and connect beyond work
While team-building events and celebrating milestones might be second nature to people managers, those more focused on goals and content may not naturally prioritise them. However, it is crucial not to underestimate their importance in building a happy and motivated team.
When I assumed leadership of my team, we began with a remote setup for two months, and it proved to be effective. However, during this period, I acknowledged the importance of forging deeper connections with my team members.
We decided to meet in person, taking a break from our daily challenges to encourage innovative thinking and engage in team-building activities. This shift brought significant value to our work and strengthened our collective bond.
I encourage you to find suitable moments for team-building and celebration activities. Allocating time for such events might feel like slowing down your regular work, but the return on investment is well worth it. It provides a substantial boost in team motivation and overall productivity.
Psychological safety is the basis for building a high-performing team. While integrating various productivity techniques remains vital, establishing physchological safety as a foundation takes precedence.
When employees arrive at the workplace with motivation and enthusiasm, they naturally take the initiative to work more diligently, be more creative, and proactively seek opportunities to elevate their performance.
Till next week.
PPS. Here’s an index of all the articles in this series:
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