Working as part of a team where you do not feel comfortable being yourself is increasingly common; even though there are clear indications of harmful effects it has on your team’s performance.

During a weekly team meeting at Company A, one of the employee’s questions one of the company’s current processes and provides a new suggestion. After discussing and researching the employees’ idea, Company A decides to implement the suggested changes which resulted in saving the company time and money. At Company B, another employee does not feel comfortable asking questions or making suggestions. Company B therefore continues engaging in their normal process.

Each employee brings their unique personality, experiences, and abilities to the table. A successful team manages to extract the most from each employee which then creates harmony between all the differences that we bring to the team. Feeling psychological safe is the major difference between the two teams in the above mentioned scenario.

Julia Rozovsky, an analyst in Google’s People Operations Department describes psychological safety as something that happens when team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. Vulnerability encourages strategic development of complex problems which will ensure that your business does not decline and become irrelevant. Employees are hired for a reason. Make sure that you provide the platform and mechanisms that will allow them to demonstrate what they have to offer.

Research shows that teams that experience psychological safety are more likely to be open-minded, creative, persistent, curious and confident. They will therefore feel comfortable to speak openly about their ideas, mistakes, concerns and questions. According to Stuart Waldon from Steople, employees that experience psychological safety displays a difference in their brain chemistry. Oxytocin is released when we feel psychologically safe and this specific hormone contributes to how we bond and trust others. Trust is the foundation of team performance as it leads to effective communication, commitment, holding one another accountable and improved team performance.

Now that we know psychological safety leads to high performing teams let’s look at how we can increase it:

  • It starts with the leader of the team: Creating psychological safety within your business is most probably not going to start at the lower levels. The leaders of the business play a vital role to set an example. Each individual in a management position need to show genuine interest in their teams and welcome them just as they are. If this is not the case in your business, training that focuses on self-awareness and the awareness of others should be considered.
  • It is not about the ‘who’ in the team: After a rigorous analysis to determine what makes a team successful, Julia Rozovsky noted that “who is on the team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.” The collective intelligence of the team declined when only one person did the talking. If everyone in the team had an opportunity to talk, the team did well. It is therefore important to ensure that you get everyone’s input on the team, no matter who the person is and what role they play within the team.
  • The importance of being socially sensitive: Social sensitivity is the ability to correctly interpret your colleagues’ non-verbal cues, expressions, emotions and tone of voice. Teams that are more socially sensitive towards one another will create a psychological safe environment in which the team can flourish. It is important to become more aware of each team member’s hopes, vulnerabilities, perspectives and opinions. Take time to ask questions within the team to get to know one another.
  • Eliminate blind spots by regularly asking for feedback: Every so often we walk around with different perceptions and assumptions…which is normally inaccurate. To improve the reliability of the content that we communicate (which will in turn build trust) we need to ask for feedback the moment we have delivered a message. Try some of the following questions when you deliver a message to your team:
    • How can I deliver my message more effectively in future?
    • How did you feel when I delivered my message?
    • How can I deliver a clearer message?
    • Did my message make sense?
  • Determine your team’s level of psychological safety: We cannot manage what we are not aware of, so a good place to start is at the current level of psychological safety within your team. Ask your team how safe they feel to speak up and what can be done that will enhance their psychological safety.

Creating a psychological safe environment will allow your team to be their best at work which will lead to an increase in team performance. This is what will continue to differentiate your business from your competitors.

Sources:

Julia Rozovsky. (2015). The five keys to a successful Google Team. Retrieved from https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/

Stuart Waldon. (2018). Are You Creating Psychological Safety for Your Team? Retrieved from https://www.steople.com.au/team-psychological-safety/#:~:text=Teams%20high%20on%20psychological%20safety,bond%20with%20and%20trust%20others.

Lisa Rosh & Lynn Offermann. (2013). Be Yourself, but Carefully. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/10/be-yourself-but-carefully

Charles Duhigg. (2016). What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html

Jonathan Cawte. (2017). Hack the Biology of Leadership: 2 Hormones Dictate Your Success. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@jonathancawte/hack-the-biology-of-leadership-2-hormones-dictate-your-success-27af65e5c2f2

Reaping the Benefits of Psychological Safety. (2020). Retrieved from https://humaninterest.co.za/reaping-the-benefits-of-psychological-safety/

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