Senior leaders increasingly recognise that ensuring employees feel a sense of psychological safety is a key element in fostering creativity, innovation and employee engagement. Psychological safety is a shared expectation held by members of a team that they will not be embarrassed, rejected or punished for sharing ideas, taking risks, requesting or providing feedback, and asking for assistance.
A leader's role in cultivating psychological safety
1. Model the behaviour you would like to see in the team
Effective leadership begins with setting the right example. As a leader, it's essential to model the behaviour you want to see within your team. Embrace curiosity, seek assistance when needed, and openly acknowledge your own mistakes. This vulnerability not only humanises you but also demonstrates that it's safe to admit shortcomings.
2. Ask for honest feedback
A cornerstone of psychological safety is the willingness to ask for candid feedback and, more importantly, reacting appropriately when it may not align with your expectations. Encourage your team members to provide honest assessments of their experiences, and show genuine appreciation for their input, even if it challenges your viewpoint.
3. Be clear about expected behaviours
Clarity is key to creating an environment of psychological safety. Clearly outline the expected behaviours from your team members when they are sharing ideas, providing feedback, or presenting their thoughts. Set the stage for respectful, constructive interactions, and emphasise the importance of active listening and empathy.
4. Address what risk-taking looks like in your environment
In a psychologically safe workplace, risk-taking should be encouraged and well-defined. Establish what risk-taking looks like within your role, or your team, and discuss how to handle both success and failure. Distinguish between a "good fail" (an experiment that provides valuable insights) and a "bad fail" (a mistake with no learning value). This distinction empowers your team to take calculated risks while learning from their experiences.
Fostering psychological safety as a team member
1. Assume positive intent
As a team member, start by assuming positive intent in your interactions with colleagues. This mindset helps build trust and reduces the fear of being misunderstood or judged. Give your peers the benefit of the doubt and approach discussions with an open mind.
2. Seek understanding
When a colleague shares their ideas or opinions, make a conscious effort to understand their perspective fully. Avoid interrupting or dismissing their thoughts prematurely. Engage in active listening, ask clarifying questions, and show empathy towards their point of view.
3. Embrace common goals
Successful collaboration hinges on a shared sense of purpose. Ensure that you have a clear understanding of your common goals and objectives. This alignment creates a strong foundation for productive and harmonious teamwork.
4. Be courageous
Psychological safety also includes the courage to express your own perspectives, thoughts, and opinions. Don't hesitate to share your insights with your team, even if they differ from the prevailing narrative. Additionally, invite honest feedback on your contributions and be open to constructive criticism.
5. Do not be afraid to admit mistakes and ask for help
Just as leaders should model vulnerability, team members shouldn’t be scared to admit their mistakes and request assistance when needed. Acknowledging your own errors fosters a culture of continuous improvement, and seeking help, when necessary, can strengthen team chemistry.
Making psychological safety a priority, may have a positive effect in reducing stress and burnout as well as enhancing employee engagement and performance. At a broader level, organisations that strive for better psychological safety unlock the immense potential of employees who are comfortable challenging assumptions, sharing innovative ideas, and openly discussing their successes and challenges. What could you do differently to pave the way for a future of collaboration, innovation, and shared success?