Psychological safety or emotional security or any mixture of those four words refers to an individuals perceived ability to take risks without overly adverse consequences. At work that might mean the feeling of being empowered to make decisions or changes to ways of working without fear of retribution if it doesn’t go perfectly.
There are numerous benefits of psychological safety at work, including more open communication and collaboration, creation of a learning culture with team members learning from each others experience of successes and mistakes. It also helps to foster creativity and innovative solutions to problems if employees don’t feel scared to make a contribution or voice an opinion that is outside the box.
Psychological safety is aligned to the growth mindset because people feel prepared to take risks and learn rather than stay in a fixed mindset of things that they know how to do and that feel secure. So it’s important to foster a culture of emotional safety if you want your team to continue learning and growing.
Be open about your own mistakes
As managers and leaders we have an opportunity to show our teams how we want to do things. A confident manager doesn’t need to be right or perfect all of the time. You can encourage your team to take risks and try new things by being open and honest about your own shortcomings. Maybe you can share some of the mistakes that you’ve made over the length of your career and how you’ve learned from them or something specific and more recent. The important thing here is to demonstrate that you tried to do something new and different for you and that you’ve learned from it. Your experience is valuable to your team and the benefit of this approach is twofold – they may learn from your mistake AND they may start to feel more comfortable suggesting new things.
Allow innovation even if you’re not sure of the results
Remember that there are often lots of different ways to do the same thing. Rather than trying to get your team to do everything in the exact way that you would have done things, or the way that it’s been done before give them the bandwidth to experiment on certain tasks. If a team member suggests an idea to you that’s different to something that’s been done before make an effort to be open to it. Even if your instinct is that the idea wrong, challenge yourself to understand what is the worst thing that could happen if you gave your employee the opportunity to explore this for themselves. Give them guidance of the potential pitfalls that they should try to avoid, and give them the opportunity to try it in a controlled way.
Encourage employees to share ideas
Create or take advantage of forums where your employees can share what they’ve been working on or an idea that they have. Maybe it’s in a regular team meeting or through specific working groups on certain subjects. Suggest that your team share what they’ve been working on – warts and all – so that others can have the opportunity to input and grow the idea.
Diversity in it’s broadest sense – age, gender, ethnicity, disability – is the right thing to promote. It’s just ethically right, but it also creates business opportunities as your customers are likely to be diverse. So the more different perspectives that you can get on a topic the more likely you are to understand your customers’ thinking. I could write about diversity for hours, but for the purposes of psychological safety, it’s important that your employees feel that their specific opinion is valued, and that the fact that it is different or coming from a different point of view is what makes it valuable. In my organisation it is often my job as the finance person in the room to bring ideas back to commercial results and risks and rewards. I know that I’m in the room BECAUSE I have a different perspective.
Recognise effort as well as results
One of the consequences of a risk taking culture is that sometimes things don’t go as well as expected. If you trust your team to make decisions to the best of their abilities but they don’t come off, recognise the ingenuity that went into trying something different. Recognise the amount of work and effort that went into the project, even if the results weren’t as positive as hoped. None of the work is wasted if you’ve learned a way that doesn’t work, so celebrate the effort and be sure to share the learnings.
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