Creating Psychological Safety for a High-Performing Team

As a project manager and team lead, creating psychological safety is an essential part of creating and maintaining high-performing teams.

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety refers to feeling like we have permission to express our thoughts and feelings, even those that may seem unpopular or controversial. It also includes having access to information about others’ actions and decisions. Team members also have opportunities to learn from mistakes made by other employees.

Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, is credited with the term. She defines it as the shared belief that team members can take interpersonal risks without negative repercussions. They have the freedom to ask questions and speak up without negative consequences.

Your Role In Creating Psychological Safety

As a leader, you must create a safe work environment for your team. It impacts quality, morale, and how effective your team can be in successfully delivering projects.

Creating a safe environment has a huge impact on your team‘s performance. But it takes effort. It requires emotional intelligence, bravery, and strong communication skills.

A Requirement for High-Performing Teams

Negative consequences for unsafe environments

Team performance can suffer if team members don’t feel safe. There are negative consequences that affect the quality of work.

The negative consequences are that team members’ psychological safety is critical for getting the best work from your team.

Lack of psychological safety leads to:

  • Lack of innovation
  • Poor decision making
  • Low morale
  • Increased stress levels

A lack of psychological safety creates anxiety among team members. They don’t know whether they’ll get support from leadership if something goes wrong. This also makes them less likely to speak out against problems because they’re worried about repercussions. For leadership, to get the best from teams, they need to create psychological safety in the workplace.

There’s evidence to back this up. Brain scans show that lack of psychological safety can trigger the same reactions as many other forms of stress. 

Benefits

High-performing teams need a safe environment to share their ideas and opinions without fear of being judged or criticized. This allows team members to be more willing to take risks, innovate, and come up with new ideas. A high-performing team needs to feel supported in being open, creative, and taking risks. This workplace culture results in greater employee performance and overall quality improvement. 

Four Key Elements for Creating Psychological Safety

These four key factors contribute to creating psychological safety for your high-performing team:

1) Trust – Employees feel safe when they know their leaders have their back and will help them if needed. They can be open about mistakes or failures. Leadership provides support or constructive feedback in these situations. And team members have clear expectations of roles and responsibilities.

2) Transparency – When employees know they can ask questions without fear of reprisal, they become more engaged with their job. They want to learn new things because they don’t feel threatened by asking questions.

3) Respect – People feel respected when they see others treated fairly and respectfully regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, etc. Healthy teams engage in difficult conversations and show respect for one another.

4) Autonomy – Employees make decisions based on their own values rather than following orders blindly.

creating psychological safety at work

How you Can Create a Safe Workplace for Your Team

Follow these steps to create a safe workplace:

1. Create an atmosphere of trust.

Trust is one of the most important elements of creating psychological safety. Teams need to be comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. This creates a more collaborative team and improves the quality of work a team produces.

2. Be transparent.

Transparency builds trust. Be open about the goals to create trust and respect with your team. Communicate what behaviors you won’t tolerate. And ask for feedback to show your team that you’re willing to learn and improve also. You may have blind spots in areas where you can improve leadership skills.

3. Respect individual differences.

Respect diversity. Encourage individuals to express themselves freely. Don’t let stereotypes limit your ability to treat people equally. Adopt a learning mindset to approach people with curiosity. Allow team members to feel comfortable showing up as their true selves.

4. Give autonomy.

Autonomy gives people the freedom to decide how they do their jobs. Give feedback, but avoid telling people exactly what to do. Instead, give suggestions and let them choose which ones apply to them. When working with your project team to build your project schedule and activities, allow teams and subject matter experts to help determine what needs to be done. Ask for input on timelines and get commitments on timelines and deliverables, rather than dictating what they’ll be.

5. Encourage risk-taking.

If you want your team to try something new, offer opportunities for experimentation. Encouraging innovation requires permitting people to fail. Encourage team members to have a growth mindset so that they see challenges as a way to grow and improve.

6. Don’t micromanage.

Don’t dictate every detail or activity for your team. Instead, give direction, guidelines, and set boundaries. Let people work independently while still holding them accountable for results.

7. Lead by example.

Show your commitment to building a positive working relationship. Treat people with dignity and fairness. Be honest and act with integrity. Avoid gossiping behind closed doors. And keep personal issues separate from professional matters.

8. Use language carefully.

Avoid using words such as “you should…” This implies judgment and criticism. Use statements such as “It would benefit us both if we did X.” Or “We need to talk about Y.”

9. Listen actively.

Make time to listen to team members. Ask questions and show interest in their ideas. Listen without interrupting. Active listening shows employees you value their opinions.

Read this: 7 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Active Listening Skills

10. Promote healthy conflict.

Healthy conflict can help teams grow stronger. It creates a space for creativity and problem-solving. But too much conflict can be destructive, leading to lower productivity, higher turnover rates, and even decreased morale. An effective team uses healthy conflict to support diverse ideas while maintaining mutual respect.

Learn how: Productive Conflict at Work: Simple Guidelines to Keep it Positive

11. Make meetings productive.

Meetings can become unproductive if participants don’t know what’s expected of them. To prevent this problem, share agendas in advance. State the goals or intended outcomes. Stay focused on discussion topics and specify the next steps and actions.

Step-by-step: How to Run a Perfect Meeting That Gets Amazing Results

12. Set clear expectations.

Establish rules early on to avoid surprises later. Set deadlines and stick to them. Give regular updates on progress toward goals. Keep promises.

13. Provide training.

Training teaches skills and provides practice. It makes workers more confident and prepared for future challenges. Make sure your team members have the information and training needed to succeed in their roles.

14. Reward excellent performance.

Team members appreciate recognition and rewards for doing well. When possible, reward achievements publicly. Let team members know you appreciate the extra effort they’ve put forth. Celebrate successes. It improves morale and inspires the team to continue to do their best.

15. Take care of your team.

A happy workforce means better productivity and higher morale. Take time out of each day to spend quality time with your team. Go over successes and failures. Share stories about experiences. Show appreciation when things go right. And if there are situations when team members need to work long hours to address problems, let management know that the team went above and beyond. And strive to protect a healthy work/life balance for your team.

Summary

Creating psychological safety at work takes effort. It requires a strong leader who’s willing to be open about what’s acceptable. It takes time and can mean disrupting the status quo. But the effort creates a successful team that can produce outstanding results.

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