I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something wasn’t quite right. No one spoke up in meetings. Conversations were polite and free of healthy debate. Everyone seemed more concerned with documenting their actions (aka CYA) than presenting ideas and creative solutions to the team.
Eventually it became clear to me that there was a problem. And it was deeply seated. What I was observing were the symptoms of a psychologically unsafe workplace.
Amy Edmondson is credited with creating the concept of psychological safety at work. In a 1999 article, she defines team psychological safety as, “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” Edmondson’s research included observing teams in hospitals where she noticed that the most cohesive teams made more mistakes, not fewer.
Cultivating Psychological Safety
Leaders play a key role in creating a workplace that is psychologically safe. In a Pew Research study, 89% of adults say it is essential for today’s business leaders to create a safe and respectful workplace. It’s not a one and done. This is an ongoing set of behaviors and actions that leaders and managers need to work at.
Leaders that Listen
Listening is a key part of being a leader. When leaders listen, they give employees permission to share their ideas and experiences. Active listening must be done with empathy and without judgement.
Create “Circles of Safety”
In his book “Leaders Eat Last,” Simon Sinek describes “Circles of Safety” that allow people to spend their time and energy working together toward a higher cause. This shared sense of purpose inspires them and withstands the inevitable pressures and dangers all teams face. Cultivating social connections and a sense of belonging for team members will help build trust, deepen relationships and ultimately, lead to more cohesive teams.
Build a Culture of Trust
Highly effective workplaces thrive when relationships are strong and based on trust. According to organizational trust experts, Drs. Dennis and Michelle Reina, “business is conducted through relationships and trust is the foundation of effective relationships.” Building trust is a two-way street that every person has to work at. It is based on commitment, communication, and a willingness to be vulnerable.
A thriving workplace is one where people feel safe, trusted and confident that they will be cared for. Creating a psychologically safe workplace is essential to helping both the people and the organization thrive.