Fostering Psychological Safety in the Workplace

From a #ManagerChats Twitter chat organised by Fellow app

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Signs of a psychologically UNsafe workplace include people not speaking up, not asking questions, and not offering up ideas.

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.

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)



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Richard McLean

Senior Director @ElsevierConnect working in Business Operations. Mainly writing about getting from A to B, teams, & digital product stuff. Personal accountt.