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April | Culture by Design | Read time: calculating...

Why psychological safety is so valuable right now

In the face of threat or danger, the three common actions are fight, flight or freeze. When acting in this way we can’t think clearly. In this article, we look at psychological safety in the workplace: how leaders can build it and ensure their teams feel heard and valued, and why it is so important right now.

Key Insights

  • The impact of a workplace culture with high ‘psychological safety’
  • The value of building a culture that is free of fear
  • The tools available to leaders that will enable them to build an environment of psychological safety

On top of everything that’s happening in the world, fearful people within an organisation can have devastating effects on just about every KPI. Reducing that fear is possible through designing a culture of “Psychological Safety,” a term made popular by Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School.

Any workplace worth its salt will take measures to comply with Workplace Health & Safety. But just as important for performance is that of psychological safety. Psychological safety is high when employees feel free to express themselves in the team without fear of failure or retribution.  These teams demonstrate a high level of trust and respect, and there is an expectation to be truthful and candid.

Benefits of psychological safety within a team

Google identified psychological safety as the number one thing underpinning the most successful teams at the company. It’s a cultural tone shift that allows “team members to feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other”.

Research undertaken by Harvard clearly shows that organisations with a higher level of psychological safety perform better on almost any metric, or KPI, in comparison to organisations that have a low psychological safety score.

How do leaders begin to build psychological safety within their organisation?

What can you do right now to make your team feel safe to ask questions and voice their concerns?

One way in which leaders can begin to build a feeling of psychological safety within their teams is through use of the S.C.A.R.E model, part of the PS25 Psychological Safety Tool. Particularly during these times of uncertainty, leaders can inject a dose of S.C.A.R.E to build resilience and engagement in the workplace.

The model works to foster the following within a team: significance, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, equity.

How do you transform your workplace into a positive and safe work environment using the SCARE model as a framework? Here are some practical tips.

  • SIGNIFICANCE

Encourage appreciation and alternative points of view. Be specific with your positive feedback. Just saying “good job” doesn’t articulate enough about what facets of the performance were admirable. Accept that there won’t always be agreement on a subject and get curious about the rationale behind conflicting points of view. Diversity brings innovation.

  • CERTAINTY

Reflect on the past and learn from history. Look at your successes and your failures in the past. What were the deciding factors in these, and how did you learn from them? How were they celebrated or commiserated? People need to have reassurance in the form of an anchor particularly at this time.

  • AUTONOMY

Make space for equal and open discussions. “Okay, let’s open the floor to questions and discuss them.” “Now, I’d like us all to raise at least one concern about the project.” “In this session there are no bad ideas, let’s get them all on the board and see what sticks.” It’s important to remind everyone in meetings (online and in person) that it’s ok to speak up. Acknowledge participation as the aim and make this part of your team routine.

Develop a high-performance team culture. Remember: if your goal is the same, you’re on the same team. Allow your team to achieve their goals in their own creative way. There’s no point in holding back a good idea or destroying someone else’s for an ego fix. You succeed, I succeed!

Trust your team. Micromanagers don’t do this, and it causes a LOT of friction in workplaces. Take your hands off the wheel and a passenger will grab it. When you give people space to learn and grow, it increases engagement and a sense of achievement.

  • RELATEDNESS

Connect with your team without a reason –  particularly in times of the virtual world we are living in.

Create a sense of hope and purpose. A team can stand unified by a clear and compelling purpose. When it’s every person for themselves, things can get ugly. Focussing on the big picture isn’t so much about letting the small stuff slide, but scaling reactions appropriately to what’s being aimed for.

  • EQUITY

Get to know the skills and strengths of the people in your team. Complete a strengths assessment and encourage team members to share their results. This can give people an opportunity to use their strengths and skills in visible, new and different ways. Finding better matches for specific tasks can also help empower team members by enabling them to work to their strengths.

Celebrate ‘buzzes’ and admit ‘fizzes’. Reflect on the week as a team; what have been the key learnings for the week? In your regular team wrap, allow people to bring up one thing that they feel has been a success – buzzes – and admit one mistake – fizzes. This allows us to clear the air, track progress informally, and address any places where we can help each other to succeed. Own your wins and losses – we ALL experience them!

Educate your team about what values mean in action. Values aren’t created for corporate feelgoodery – and they should be observable by how people behave. At Keogh, we measure the demonstration of a company’s values by above and below the line behaviours. Above the line are simple actions aligned with the values. i.e.  ‘listening intently’ reinforces the value of ‘curiosity’. Whereas interrupting, prejudice, assumption – these are all below the line, so discouraged and called out when needed. Encouraged actions can also be applied in a professional development sense.

Do you want to build a culture of psychological safety?

COVID-19 has presented businesses with indeterminant challenges and forced us all to make changes to how we operate day-to-day. For many, this has led to the need to navigate how we maintain connectedness with colleagues and stay productive while working from home. It is vital, then, that during these times of uncertainty, team members feel that they can voice their concerns, express their feelings, or make decisions and work autonomously.

If you would like to build and promote a culture of psychological safety where everyone feels heard and valued, contact Keogh.  Now is the time to do it, if not for you, then for your team.

Jump to a section

1. Psychological Safety and KPIs
3. Benefits of psychological safety within a team
4. How do leaders begin to build psychological safety within their organisation?
5. How do you transform your workplace into a positive and safe work environment using SCARE?
7. Do you want to build a culture of psychological safety?