If I take myself back to the 90’s, I can recall many instances, walking through the door of various client’s offices and the sinking feeling that essentially accompanied me soon after. It was clearly a reflection of the culture I was walking into. This fundamentally highlighted how people were being treated and how things were being done.
Working with the most reputable organisations in the printing industry, I used to think to myself, ‘OMG the people you have here, are nothing short of outstanding, who always go the extra mile. Why on earth, don’t you, appreciate and value them? If you just listened, asked some great questions and held managers with hypocritical, dictatorial behaviour, accountable, then this organisation would be a better place……what a waste!’
Fortunately, we have come a long way since then in our understanding of culture, effective leadership and the impact it has on success. I do however, frequently experience leaders with a mindset, that they believe they have to have, ALL THE ANSWERS FOR EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME. Their hesitant to show any level of vulnerability or to admit that they just don’t actually have all the answers.
My experience during the 90’s helped inform me, of the ingredients that were consistently missing in teams, which to my delight, has been highlighted in what I believe is the most comprehensive research of its kind to date. The Google Aristotle Project 2016, explored the perfect team composition, studying over 250 attributes, of over 180 teams for 2 years. They found that the composition of the team mattered far less, than the way that people treated each other and felt about the environment.
Psychological Safety was the biggest predictor of team performance accounting for 36% differential in revenue performance. So what is it?
Professor Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School defines psychological safety as:
‘A shared belief held by members of a team/group that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’
‘A sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up.’
Professor Edmondson also stresses that it must co-exist with ACCOUNTABILITY.
This model highlighted to me, that the normal in many organisations, is sitting in the anxiety/panic mode. People don’t know where they stand or if the boss will be abusing people today, or elbow nudging with a wink and a joke the next. The use of cynicism is a classic example of sending mixed messages and people feeling unsafe. What did the leader really mean when they said;
‘Go for it, what a brilliant idea….and who knows what you can come up with next time?’ Possibly intending to be engaging and funny, but left the report feeling fearful, wasting time and energy on rerunning the words through their head and trying to get the angle right. What a waste of time and effort. Actually it doesn’t work. Cynicism is a form of repressed anger and is fundamentally a behaviour that is not ok. So what does it take for leaders to create psychological safety in their teams?
Hewlett, 2015 conducted research across 11 growth markets, which uncovered 7 leadership behaviours that drive team psychological safety and inclusion.
7 Things leaders can do to build psychological safety
- Ensure that everyone is heard
- Make it safe to propose novel ideas
- Give team members decision making authority
- Share credit for success
- Provide clear, actionable feedback
- Implement feedback from the team
- Maintain regular contact with team members
If leaders exhibit at least 3 of the 7 behaviours, team members are 4 times more likely to:
Express their views (89% vs. 19%)
Feel their ideas are heard (76% vs. 20%)
So how psychological safe is your organisation?