Psychological Safety

Do you wonder what makes the ideal high performing team? 

To many people’s surprise, what we’ve come to learn is that it that a teams collective intelligence is not correlated with the sum of its member’s individual intelligence. 

Collective intelligence is made up of three different elements: 

  • The first of these elements is social perceptiveness or social awareness:
    This is how perceptive or aware we are about other people and understanding why they behave and react the way they do. 
  • The second element is equality in conversational turn-taking:
    This is what we know as psychological safety. Equality in conversational turn-taking is ensuring that everyone is heard and has time to speak and that this time is shared equally. Also, it is essential that all members of the team feel like and experience they can voice their opinion and communicate their ideas without fear of judgment. 
  • The final element is gender diversity: 
    This is having equality in the ratio between genders. 

We also know psychological safety is important for team performance based on Google’s research study “Project Aristotle”. Google conducted this study to determine what makes up an effective team at Google. 

They spent 2 years observing 180 teams of 37.000 employees. What they learned from their study was that psychological safety was the most important thing needed to create high performing teams. 

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But what is psychological safety exactly? 

Psychological safety allows teams to learn, grow, and perform, which is why it is critical for us to understand.

There is a great misconception that psychological safety is simply about being in your comfort zone, but it has nothing to do with being at home in your favorite spot on the couch with your favorite snack while talking to colleagues.

Instead, it’s a place where you have a strong sense of safety but also high-performance standards.

If you have low psychological safety and low-performance standards you end up with people who are mostly apathetic to their work. They end up in the apathy zone. If performance standards are increased many then think that people will be motivated to work harder. However, if you have low psychological safety coupled with high-performance standards this leads to anxiety. This is where people experience high amounts of stress.

However, if you have high psychological safety but low-performance standards the result will be that people enter into a comfort zone where the employee is comfortable but has low productivity because little is expected of them. Neither this is a place where people tend to be happy.

What you do want for your employees is for them to be in their learning zone; this is where employees experience high psychological comfort and high-performance standards. People tend to do better and be more productive when more is expected of them and they thrive in this learning zone.

So what we know about psychological safety is that it’s not about being comfortable, it’s about creating space for the behaviors that are necessary for complex, uncertain, and interdependent work, which is most modern work environments. 

We also know psychological safety exists at group level, which means it can be different from one team to another, even within the same organization.

This level of variation is why it is important to stay focused on cultivating psychological safety within each team. 

Lastly, we know that high psychological safety creates an environment that encourages learning behavior, and allows for people to be more creative in their work. People also have a higher tendency to report errors because they have less fear of reporting. And, of course, with more error reporting comes more opportunity for growth, learning, and quality improvements in implementation.

But how do we build this safe space for our employees? If you want to learn more about this check out our course.

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