5 Ways Leaders Can Strengthen Psychological Safety In Teams

“Welcome to the family.” This is how one should feel from the start when new people join the team of any company.

Of course, linking a workplace to a home is a lofty promise. To measure up, you need to make sure your employees live in a safe place where they can be who they are without fear of punishment or humiliation for sharing their ideas, raising concerns, or making mistakes.

Psychological safety: 5 tips for managers

Over the past five years at Futurice, I have learned how to make our organization psychologically safe. Here are my main takeaways:

1. Create space for transparency

Psychological security begins with the experience of belonging – one of the most basic needs of every human being. However, it’s hard for people to feel part of a shared story if they lack visibility into the most important discussions and decision-making processes in their organization.

To remedy this, I found two things to be particularly effective:

  • Share openly as much as you can as early as possible, even when you feel like you don’t have time
  • Co-create systems that increase transparency throughout the organization.

Both take a long time, but it always pays off. I schedule weekly updates with my team and I also actively use, and invite others to use, the systems we have built to improve the flow of information.

Some of the systems are very basic, such as our Power tool, which allows our employees to see all client projects, team configurations, current staffing situations and business forecasts, and order books. Others are more advanced; for example, we created a Bubble Burster tool to help people search for digital fingerprints in our shared calendars and identify the most competent resource for particular topics.

[ Where is your team’s digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What’s slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

2. Help people connect with each other

Belonging not only means knowing what is going on, but also feeling close to others. While technology can help with this, it is not enough. Creating privacy during these unprecedented hybrid times can be difficult, but the little things can go a long way.

For example, at Futurice, we make a point of sharing our hobbies and interests when we meet new people. We do this internally with new recruits as well as with our clients. Recently our new CEO introduced himself and shared not only his professional background, but also his passion for renovation, football and alpine skiing. Sharing hobbies in a business meeting may seem like a waste of time, but finding common interests helps people connect: throughout the pandemic, clubs formed around common interests such as golf , knitting and ice swimming have helped keep the morale of our teams.

3. Create a culture of feedback with little daily habits

To help people feel comfortable expressing their opinions, make it a regular practice. My team has found it helpful to collect feedback on our day-to-day activities – for example, after each sales meeting with our customers, we set aside time to give us feedback – how did it go? Where have we succeeded? What could we do better next time? And above all: what have we learned?

While there are many other methods we use to collect feedback on a regular basis, these little daily routines are a powerful way to help everyone see that their opinions are valued and develop the ability to give and receive feedback.

[ Are you a toxic boss – or are you dealing with one? Read also: How to deal with a toxic boss. ]

4. Learn to love criticism (or at least accept it)

One of my biggest challenges as a leader has been learning to cherish negative comments and dissenting opinions. Often our first reaction to criticism is to be on the defensive or to try to justify why we are right. However, to create a psychologically safe environment, you must learn to appreciate all contributions, even when they do not meet your expectations or conflict with your own point of view.

Start with a real “thank you,” which gives you some time to breathe and resist the intuitive emotional response to criticism. It’s also okay to tactfully let others know if you’re having a hard time coming to terms with their point of view and need to revisit it later.

5. Have the courage to intervene

Finally, and perhaps most important, to create psychological safety, it takes the courage to speak out when someone acts inappropriately, regardless of their location in the organizational hierarchy.

We’ve all been there: You’re in a meeting and someone makes an offensive joke or comment – and no one seems to notice. It is during these times that true leadership is put to the test by providing an opportunity to step in and help the offender understand that they are breaking the rules. This is important because not speaking out will be interpreted as silent approval, and any culture that approves or accepts discrimination will never be psychologically safe.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]


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