I’ve Got Your Back

What is it the secret to teams performing at a higher level? Could it be as simple as knowing that your colleague, and most importantly your leader, has got your back?

During the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge a safety net was installed beneath the bridge. It added cost to the project, but the project lead was adamant it be installed. It saved the lives of 19 workers that fell into it. In total 11 people died during the project; 10 were in a single incident when scaffolding failed and went through the net. To put this in context, the Oakland Bay Bridge was completed six months earlier and 28 lives were lost.

The Golden Gate Bridge was completed ahead of schedule and therefore on budget. Analysis done at the time would suggest that construction workers worked faster on the bridge because they knew the safety net was there should they fall. The big take away from this story is that performance and the speed with which things are done is directly affected by a person’s perception of safety.

How safe is your leadership? Do people in your organisation or team feel safe to voice their opinion, try something new, or challenge current thinking? The critical factor research in high performing teams has found is psychological safety.

You would expect if you put the people with the best skills together then they would be a high performing team. Yet the evidence suggested in studies like the Project Aristotle in Google, shows it is less about who is on the team and more about how the team is able to work together.

Psychological Safety: what is it?

\”Psychological safety is a condition in which you feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo – all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalised, or punished in some way.\” Timothy R. Clark

When Psychological safety is present the team is able to innovate and create. Critical thinking without criticism is the norm. In short, people on the team have each other’s backs.

What if such an environment existed on your team? What would happen to the frequency of new ideas, of improvements, of performance as people expend energy on the task before them rather than on office politics, or protecting themselves from interpersonal risk?

What Psychological Safety Is Not

Psychological safety is not tolerating behaviour or work that is less than should be expected. Expecting high performance, quality work, delivery of projects on time and on budget are not undermined by an environment in which psychological safety exists. For teams to perform at the highest level then keeping performance and quality standards high will be as important as operating within an environment of high psychological safety.

Building Psychological Safety

  • Leader Goes First – The leader sets the culture, for this to work trust must be a high value. Knowing yourself as a leader is the first step.
  • Active listening – Psychological safety means that people believe they are free to speak up and make the contribution they have. This comes down to recognising that there are different voices or personalities on the team. Listening at this level is a skill that can be learnt.
  • Permission to fail – To engender innovation and creativity and cultivate an atmosphere where taking risks is celebrated then team members will need to know that they have the freedom to fail when trying new things.
  • Honest Communication – Learning to celebrate the strength in the team is key. Communicating well when you make mistakes as a leader (owning up) is key to building trust.

This is only half the factors to building psychological safety I focus on in my book “I See You.”  To get the full picture you can get your copy here.

Stay safe.

Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

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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