Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor who identified the concept of psychological safety in teams, has written extensively about its benefits. In short, if people are afraid to speak up at work, their team will miss out on important questions and creative ideas that can improve their performance.
Here’s how psychological safety shows up on teams.
It’s much easier to admit a mistake when you’re confident that it won’t be used against you. Effective teams have a shared understanding that examining what went wrong leads to better results in the future. On psychologically safe teams, there is no shame resulting from honest failure.
It’s acceptable to admit that you don’t understand something or have a question that seems basic. You can admit to gaps in knowledge and receive critical feedback on your ideas without being criticized as a person. The focus is on continuous learning.
Leaders who want safety value the perspective of every individual on their team. They know that each team member is an expert on their own work and has unique insights to offer. Conformity is not expected. In a team characterized by respect, there is no stigma for speaking up if you disagree even with the most popular ideas.
The risk taking required to foster psychological safety is counterintuitive. Most people are hesitant to act in a way that might make colleagues question their competence or judgement. Leaders can overcome those natural defenses using two strategies.
As a leader, you can set a precedent for humility by admitting mistakes and consistently reinforcing that failure is part of life and contains valuable lessons.
Teams at Google found that adopting new group norms, such as beginning team meetings by sharing a risk taken in the previous week, increased psychological safety ratings by 6%.
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