How to build Psychological Safety within Your Team

by | Jul 2, 2021

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The highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety. But what exactly is it?

According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, who coined the term:

“Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

The benefits of psychological safety are compelling. Take Google’s two-year study on team performance, which found it to be the top key dynamic that set successful teams apart from other teams.

The world’s most successful companies rely on innovative ideas and breakthroughs to drive performance. Such ideas are brought about through psychological safety, which enables the risk-taking, creativity and freedom to bring them to market.

So how can you increase psychological safety within your own team? Here’s five ways to foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable to take risks and share their thoughts.

1. Recognise and accept that everyone has different strengths

The first step in promoting psychological safety is recognising that everyone thinks differently – and that’s okay. There are no right or wrong, better or worse ways of thinking, just different ways.

The Herrmann Whole Brain® framework recognises that all people think differently, and that these different thinking styles impact how we communicate, how we collaborate and how we work.

As an example, an experimental thinker may be great at visualising and working toward the ‘big picture’, and as such, may be really good at strategic planning. However, they also tend to be less focused on the small details, and could get carried away without ensuring they’re crossing their Ts and dotting their Is.

On the other hand, practical thinkers are very detail-oriented and make for great project managers. However, they tend to be less experimental and may feel uncomfortable with tight deadlines or unexpected changes.

If we can recognise and accept that we’re not going to be great at everything, we can identify gaps in our skills, and work to fill these gaps by collaborating with thinkers that complement our thinking style and have strengths in the areas we may prefer less.

2. Build trust

Understanding how you prefer to think is a good start, but voicing your opinions is easier said than done for many of us. It can be hard for employees to be open and honest, for fear they’ll look incompetent or be penalised.

To overcome this barrier it’s important to build a culture of trust where employees feel safe to share their ideas. Building strong, genuine and honest relationships where employees feel valued, heard and acknowledged, gives them the confidence to speak up.

Employees need to know that if they speak up, their ideas won’t be immediately shot down. You can build trust in your team by:

  • Being honest & offering constructive criticism
  • Involving your team in decision making
  • Avoiding micromanaging
  • Standing up for your colleagues
  • Keeping your word

And, perhaps most importantly, our next point…

3. Lead by example

To create a trusting and safe work environment that encourages honest communication and sharing it’s very important to lead by example. Employees often learn about the culture of an organisation by observing (and then mimicking) the behaviour of their management.

Culture comes from the top, so if you’re a leader who’s closed, standoffish and uncommunicative, you can expect that to trickle down. Be open and honest with how you communicate and what you share.

It’s especially important to be honest when it comes to your own mistakes and failures. Everyone inevitably will make mistakes, but it is what happens next that matters the most. If your employees know it’s okay to take risks, and to fail, they’ll be more likely to contribute their ideas and thoughts.

4. Recognise and celebrate diversity

Once your team can recognise that everyone thinks differently, work to fill any gaps. Forming teams that represent different ways of thinking are proven to lead to more innovative outcomes and better financial results.

But it doesn’t stop there. As a leader it’s critically important to not only employ a diverse workforce, but to also ensure that this diversity is celebrated.

It’s most typical for people to gravitate towards people who they think like them. Instead, encourage employees to collaborate with people they may normally not have. Although project ideation and progress may be somewhat slowed initially, these teams will more often come up with innovative solutions to the complex challenges your industry faces.

By incentivising or rewarding these groups, you’ll ensure that your workers understand that diverse opinions are not only respected, they’re highly valued, which encourages sharing across the whole organisation.

5. Build a stronger team with Whole Brain® Thinking

In order to thrive in a changing world, teams can use the lenses of Whole Brain® Thinking to understand how teams can collaborate to do their best work.

The HBDI® is based on the Whole Brain® Model, a metaphor for how people tend to use their brains and how their thinking works. In the Whole Brain® Model, thinking falls into four preferences of equal importance that everyone can access:

  • The Upper Left Blue A Quadrant specialises in logical, analytical, quantitative, fact-based thinking.
  • The Lower Left Green B Quadrant focuses on details and specialises in planning, organising, and sequencing information.
  • The Lower Right Red C Quadrant places a priority on feelings and the interpersonal, emotional and kinesthetic aspects of a situation.
  • The Upper Right Yellow D Quadrant synthesises and integrates information and is more intuitive and holistic in its thinking.

Herrmann four-colour quadrant graphic

The four-colour quadrant graphic and Whole Brain® are registered trademarks of Herrmann Global, LLC. ©2021 Herrmann Global, LLC

By using the HBDI® and Whole Brain® Thinking as a starting point, teams can work towards making adjustments to greatly improve processes, outputs and outcomes. Together, this helps to create a more psychologically safe workplace environment which is able to deliver better outcomes for both business and people.

Interested in learning more about Whole Brain® Thinking and how it can help your team and business reach its full potential? Get in touch with Herrmann today.

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