Team Psychological Safety Must Be Co-Created

Posted on April 17, 2024 by Nate Regier / 0 comments
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Psychological safety was originally researched and given its name by team performance researcher Dr. Amy Edmonson. The benefits are well-documented in the research; positive impact on a team’s performance, innovation, creativity, resilience, and learning. Google’s Project Aristotle study showed that psychological safety is the top predictor of high-performing teams. For leaders, creating psychological safety is best done as a co-creative process.

What is Psychological Safety?

Here’s a succinct definition of team psychological safety from Harvard Business Review.

Team psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team that it’s OK to take risks, to express their ideas and concerns, to speak up with questions, and to admit mistakes — all without fear of negative consequences. As Edmondson puts it, “it’s felt permission for candor.

How Do Leaders Create Team Psychological Safety?

We know it’s good, we know we need it. We can feel it when we have it. But how do we create it?

It may be tempting to think that psychological safety is something we create “for” others. It’s in how we respond, the conditions we create, or the unwritten rules of engagement. These are all important, but they miss one critical piece:

Psychological safety is in the eye of the beholder. 

“Felt permission for candor,” as Dr. Edmonson puts it, means that we have to consider others’ lived experience to determine if psychological safety exists. This requires compassion.

With vs For

Compassion means “suffer with,” It’s a process grounded in a choice to care about another person. That choice means we walk alongside others in the struggle, co-creating a better path. We don’t do it “for” them, we do it “with” them.

Thinking you can create psychological safety FOR another person without their participation puts you above them instead of beside them. 

How To Co-Create Team Psychological Safety

  1. Declare your intention. Co-creating psychological safety starts with declaring your intention to care about others’ experience being part of the team. Put it out there that you care and want to do something about it.
  2. Different strokes for different folks. Explore what psychological safety means for each person. Not everyone needs the same thing. For example, to feel safe, I need to know that my ideas will be taken seriously, even if you don’t see the logic at first. For others, it means their feelings are appreciated and respected. For others yet, it may mean that you will respect that behind my contributions are deep values. If you don’t know what makes different people tick, how can you possibly know how to create psychological safety?
  3. Develop shared behavior norms. Psychological safety is made or broken through our behaviors. As a team, work together to determine the observable behaviors that demonstrate psychological safety, and those that detract.
  4. Compassionate Accountability®. Norms mean nothing unless they are enforced. Compassionate Accountability means you don’t compromise relationships for results or the other way around. Ultimately, teams must advance the goals of the organization. Psychological safety is a terrific way to get there, but if you pursue safety without attention to results, your team won’t last.
  5. Don’t confuse discomfort for lack of psychological safety. Healthy conflict and transparency are uncomfortable, but necessary for psychological safety. Have honest discussions about the difference between being uncomfortable and feeling safe.
  6. Check in and celebrate. Never take psychological safety for granted, or get complacent. Check-in regularly around people’s experiences of psychological safety. Celebrate the positives, and correct the shortcomings.

Team Psychological Safety Resources

Here are some resources to help guide conversations with your team and provide additional tips for success.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2024

Compassionate Accountability IS Psychological Safety

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