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Cultivating psychological safety: 6 simple strategies for managers

Tuesday, May 28 2024
Written By: Poppy Millett
  Executives long believed that building the best teams meant combining the best people. But studies from Harvard Business School, Google, and countless other leading universities and think tanks all assert that another factor is responsible, or in fact fundamental, for building a successful team. That factor is psychological safety.   What is psychological safety? […]

 

Executives long believed that building the best teams meant combining the best people. But studies from Harvard Business School, Google, and countless other leading universities and think tanks all assert that another factor is responsible, or in fact fundamental, for building a successful team. That factor is psychological safety.

 

What is psychological safety?

The term psychological safety refers to a team culture in which individuals feel safe enough to take risks (i.e. to share new ideas, ask questions, raise concerns, and admit mistakes) without fear of negative repercussions.

psychological safetyThis results in a team that is able to reflect upon and learn from its mistakes, where feedback is given and received in a spirit of collaboration and trust, where creative problem-solving and innovation occur uninhibited by worries about ridicule or stepping on toes, and where the overall sense of security and support teammates provide one another boosts team wellbeing – wellbeing, Luminate well know, being a key factor in improved productivity, engagement, and staff retention.

All that to say, a psychologically safe team is a high-performing team.

On the other, more intimidating hand, teams with low psychological safety are unable to perform at their best. Individuals will be operating out of fear, likely concealing mistakes, feeling mistrustful, competing rather than collaborating with their peers, and having great difficulty challenging the status quo – a necessity for businesses to innovate and create a competitive advantage.

So, how can we go about creating psychological safety within our teams?

 

How can managers cultivate a psychologically safe team?

Being a good manager is as much about soft skills as it is technical know-how. And creating a culture of psychological safety falls very much into this category.

In this article, we share some clear, actionable strategies to help managers create an environment where their reports and colleagues feel safe to take risks, share ideas, and collaborate openly. Here are six practical ways to cultivate psychological safety in your team:

 

1 - Lead by example

As a manager, your behaviour sets the tone for the team. Demonstrate vulnerability by acknowledging your own limitations, admitting mistakes, and seeking feedback. By showing humility and authenticity, you create a safe space for others to do the same, resulting in mistakes being seen as opportunities for learning and growth, rather than a source of blame or shame.

Try to model wellbeing behaviours too - such as not sending emails outside of working hours, taking your full lunch break, and leaving work on time, etc. – giving staff ‘psychological permission’ to prioritise their wellbeing as well. After all, a happy, healthy team is a productive, motivated team.

 

2 - Encourage contribution

Google’s Project Aristotle (an initiative to discover what made Google’s highest performing teams so successful) found that groups in which everyone input into conversations equally, where the conversation wasn’t dominated by one or two individuals, were consistently amongst the highest performing.

psychological safetyEncourage everyone to contribute in meetings, making it clear that every voice is mattered and valued. Go around the table and ask for input from those who’ve been quietly observing, rather than talking: “You haven’t told us what you think yet, Nadja? What is your perspective?” Be open to hearing concerns and challenges, as well as positive feedback.

In terms of equal turn-taking, it’s important to be aware of the gender bias that often sees women being perceived as speaking more than they truly are (studies show that, when women speak 30% of the time, they are perceived as dominating the conversation in mixed gender groups).

 

3 - Establish team norms

Collaboratively establish team norms (an informal set of rules or conventions) around expected behaviours and communication styles within the group. One example of a norm could be a no interruptions rule, allowing everyone the chance to be/feel heard and cultivating a sense of mutual respect.

Start an open dialogue, if you’ve not done so already, about how team members prefer to give and receive feedback, handle conflicts, and share information. By establishing clear norms, you create a sense of predictability and safety within the team and empower staff to navigate the workplace with confidence.

 

4 - Foster peer support

Encourage peer-to-peer support and collaboration by facilitating opportunities for team members to share best practices and assist one another when needed.

Instil the principles of active listing within your team and make it clear that feedback should be constructive and focused on growth and development, rather than judgement or criticism. Once again, leading by example here is critical to establish this as a behaviour as a team norm.

By fostering this culture of mutual support and camaraderie, you create a strong sense of belonging and unity.

 

5 - Celebrate success and learn from failure

psychological safetyRecognise and celebrate both individual and team achievements, no matter how big or small. Acknowledge the efforts and contributions of team members publicly and express gratitude for their hard work.

Similarly, when setbacks occur, encourage a culture of group reflection and learning, keeping the focus on the problem and not the person or people involved. Use mistakes as valuable opportunities for improvement and growth.

 

6 - Schedule regular check-ins

Set aside time for regular one-on-one meetings with each team member. Use these check-ins to listen, provide feedback, and address any concerns they may have. By demonstrating your availability and willingness to support your team, you foster trust, openness, and offer a consistent safe space for your reports.

 

Healthy workplace cultures don’t happen by accident – creating a psychologically safe team requires intentional effort and commitment. Using these simple strategies can help create such an environment; one in which your people feel empowered to take risks, share ideas, collaborate effectively and, ultimately, thrive.

Learn more about Luminate’s managers' training or our workshop on psychological safety for teams at weareluminate.co.

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