Am I Safe?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to deliver training in person with a great group of people who are doing amazing work affecting people across the globe. I have missed being in the room with people. The topic of leaders & followers was framed in the context of trust. One of the unspoken questions for a lot of team members is am I safe in this team? This field of study is known as psychological safety which, if done well significantly increases team performance.

The topic gets right to the heart of trusting others. When trust is high in the team it’s speed and capacity go up. Not just a little. What is psychological safety and how can you as a leader leverage it in your environment?

Amy Edmondson a pioneer researcher in this field, defines psychological safety in her book the fearless organization as:

“… a belief that neither the formal nor informal consequences of interpersonal risks, like asking for help or admitting failure, will be punitive.”

Amy has also described it as: “A belief that the context is safe for interpersonal risk-taking – that speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes will be welcomed and valued.”

In other words, if I speak up in this group, share an idea, risk an opinion, will I be humiliated, cut off, or embarrassed? If the answer to these questions becomes a regular yes, then this individual will stop engaging with their team and their contribution will be lost.

What would it look like if you were part of a team or organisation where all ‘voices can contribute without the fear of being shot down, interrupted, embarrassed, blamed or vilified?

What if such an environment existed on your team? What would happen to the frequency of innovation, of improvements, of performance as people expend energy on the task before them rather than on office politics, or protecting themselves from interpersonal risk? In short having the opportunity to to bring the best of themselves.

When anyone on your team doesn’t believe they are safe then the result is an erosion of trust. As Stephen M. R. Covey puts it, “… the speed of trust is the speed of the team.” To create such an environment does require intentionality but it is very possible and the return on investment is high for all involved.

A Case in Point

You may have heard of the organisation known as Google. Google did a study on team effectiveness which was published in 2015, \”Project Aristotle,\” was tasked with finding out what factors made Google teams effective. Julia Rozovsky led the project. She comments that the results of the study led to the following surprising discovery:

“Researchers found what really mattered was less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together.”

Amy Edmondson commenting on the study said: “Psychological Safety explained the variance in team performance.”

The results of the Google study identify 5 factors that contribute to team effectiveness. The most important one being psychological safety. What Google found was that psychological safety underpins the other 4 factors.

A Different Way

I saw this for myself leading a team where historically psychological safety was not present and meetings had become toxic. To improve this, in meetings we agreed:

  • It was not acceptable, in the course of discussion, to make any personal comments about other members of the team. Passion was fine but let’s keep it about the issues.
  • Everyone should contribute. Say everything you need to about the issue in the meeting, if it’s not said in the meeting don’t say it outside.
  • Everyone in the meeting owns the decisions made. Once we leave the room all of us represent the decisions – no meetings outside the meeting or intimating you would have done it differently if the decision is questioned.

It took a little time but the impact on creativity, decision making and interpersonal relationships improved markedly.

I am happy to say the organisation I spent time with yesterday also has such an environment and I look forward to seeing how it will speed up achieving their purpose.

If you want to know me on how you can implement this in your team or organisation you can do so here.

Stay safe.

Mark Billage

Mark Billage

Mark’s passion is to help realise individuals’ potential, be they leaders or team members, through empowering organisational culture. He has spent 7 years leading an organisation based in the non profit sector. In that time, he focused on creating a culture that enabled and empowered individuals, with the aim of seeing a high performing team better able to achieve the organisation’s mission.

Our Vision

To train and equip leaders to transform culture, build successful teams and organisations where everyone is seen, heard and valued for their unique contribution.

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