Fostering Psychological Safety in the Workplace
Yesterday I partipated for the first time as a panellist in a Twitter chat. It was a fast-paced and enjoyable hour, organised by Fellow app. I enjoyed hearing the perspectives and advice fron the other panellists. Rather than leave my answers scattered across the Internet, I thought that I’d gather them together in one place and also include some answers I particularly appreciated from other panellists too.
Q1. Introduce yourself! Tell us a bit about your background, your career journey, or anything else you’d like us to know.
Hi, I’m Richard. I’ve been managing people and teams for 20 years. My career journey is unusual. I started as a teacher: I taught English in France, and French in England. I worked in the UK Parliament managing select committees, I was a diplomat in Brussels, and I worked in the senior civil service as Strategy Director for a UK government department. I now support teams developing tech products.
Q2. The term psychological safety is described by Amy Edmondson as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”
What does psychological safety mean to you?
At Elsevier, we value having inclusive, engaged and agile teams. Psychological safety is super important if you want to foster the right conditions for high-performing teams. So it’s important to us to have an environment where everyone feels psychologically safe, is treated fairly and respectfully, has equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully.
Q3. According to Mckinsey, team leaders have the strongest influence on a team’s psychological safety. What behaviours or habits should leaders demonstrate to promote a positive and empowering culture?
I agree that leaders have a key role to play in fostering an inclusive environment. Whether we are senior executives or managers, leaders’ behaviours can drive up to 70 percentage points difference between the proportion of employees who feel highly included and the proportion of those who do not — which is a phenomenal difference.
I wrote about practical ways leaders can foster an inclusive environment here.
Q4. The CEO of Shopify, Tobi Lutke, has shared the concept of having a trust battery between you and your employer to gauge how your relationship is. What are other ways managers can measure the level of psychological safety in their team?
Measurement is important: how else do you know if people in your team feel psychologically safe? To measure psychological safety in my team, I use a simple survey based on Amy Edmondson’s work, asking team members seven simple questions, which I explain here.
Q5. Danielle Leong shared that psychological safety means having two opposing ideas being heard and respected.
How can managers handle (and encourage) opposing points of view during team meetings?
As Patrick Lencioni said:
“Teams that trust each other are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decisions that are key to the organization’s success. They do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another, all in the spirit of finding the best answers, discovering the truth, and making great decisions.”
But encouraging opposing points of view during team meetings is not easy or natural for many people. I have written about how I overcame my own fear of conflict and shared some practical tools to help teams move away from consensus.
Q6. It’s important to know what an insecure workplace may look like. What are some signs managers and leaders should look out for that can signal a psychologically UNsafe workplace?
Signs of a psychologically UNsafe workplace include people not speaking up, not asking questions, and not offering up ideas.
Q7. Women report lower psychological safety than men, according to Graeme Cowan. As a result, men feel safer taking risks at work, and women are worried that mistakes will be held against them.
How can organizations encourage risk-taking and failing?
Leaders need to destigmatise failure. We can do this by admitting when we don’t know something and admit when we’re wrong. Openly doing this can send a strong signal. We can also encourage the exploration of ideas — and managers can also try new things and challenge themselves.
Q8. Final question! Let’s talk about building safety around feedback.
How can managers provide constructive feedback in a way that is not taken as criticism by their employees?
Tom Geraghty recently wrote an article with advice on giving feedback with psychological safety. I would start there.
Fellow app’s write up of the panel discussion is here: What is Psychological Safety? (FAQ with Management Experts)