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Creating a Safe Place for Teams to Excel


Wed Feb 17 2021

Creating a Safe Place for Teams to Excel

“As social creatures, humans thrive in groups. Social relationships have a profound effect on our emotional and physical well-being,” write Kenneth Nowack and Paul J. Zak in “Sustain High Performance With Psychological Safety.” They continue by explaining the potential impact when those social relationships are construed as negative: “When people are devalued, ignored, rejected, bullied, or shamed, they typically describe the experience as painful. Pain causes people to narrow their focus to the here and now, and it impairs their ability to effectively execute tasks.”

Thus, if we want employees to effectively executive tasks and be productive, it is critical to understand the culture of our organization. Do staff members feel shamed, or do they feel psychologically safe—a state where individuals are comfortable expressing themselves and taking risks?


Setting the Stage for Psychological Safety

If employees are going to take risks, they have to trust their colleagues. That trust is not going to happen overnight, but when leaders and managers show their support, care, and empathy for employees, psychological safety begins to develop.

Social relationships can begin to be developed through connection. Leaders can ask about the nonwork activities and individuals who are important to staff: children and their activities, hobbies, partners, or spouses.

Leaders can improve morale by expressing gratitude for their employees’ work. This can be done via a simple comment in the hallway, a thank you note, or praise in an organizational newsletter or all-staff meeting.

In addition to connecting to employees, leaders can ask for their employees’ opinions or recommendations. During a team meeting, leaders can conduct a round-robin to ask for the input of each team member. Additionally, a leader can practice active listening, echoing what they heard the individual staffer express.

Employees also need to know they’re being supported. Leaders can share direct-report ideas with senior leaders, mentioning by name the staffer who came up with the idea. Leaders can work to ensure that team members have the tools and other resources they need to be able to effectively and efficiently do their jobs. Leaders can also lead by example when it comes to a healthy life outside of work.


Sustaining Psychological Safety

In addition to singular actions, talent development and other leaders can work to ensure that trust is present on an ongoing basis. To do this, distribute benchmark surveys to determine how employees are faring. Identify departments and analyze which teams are doing the best. Follow up and find out what managers and leaders of those teams are doing that commands their high marks.

Carefully considering whom you hire is another way to help sustain a trusting culture longer term. Include the psychological safe and trust aspect of the organizational culture on the internet so applicants understand the behavior that is expected of employees of your company.

Another way to sustain culture is through training. This can be done via webinars, coaching, role play, and so forth. The training can consist of practicing active listening, conflict management, and giving and receiving feedback.

Being transparent also provides the basis of trust. This might include sharing company financial information during town-hall meetings and a norm of solving problems rapidly and fairly.

Why Psychological Safety Is Critical

In today’s changing world of work, innovation and teamwork are necessary for organizational success. For staff to be forthcoming with their ideas and have a sense of camaraderie, psychological safety must be in place. Nowack and Zak sum it up like this: “Employees facing and overcoming challenges at work alongside trusted colleagues enjoy and remain in their jobs and inspire colleagues to perform at their best. That


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