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I read and hear a lot of crap about Psychological Safety. The first bad idea is how people think Edmondson is arguing that we should fail faster. What she is arguing is that organisations are making mistakes all the time. Some cause quality problems, some prevent you grasping business opportunities. Some you know about, some only emerge in your rear-vision mirror. Great teams report and learn from mistakes. They also predict and prevent mistakes. The also consider how current practices are preventing realising higher levels of performance.
Leaders play a big role in facilitating psychological safety in the team, but they are not alone. My research shows that the correlations between leadership behaviours and psychological safety are not as strong as you might expect suggesting that peer pressure (excluding or including group norms) plays a bigger role than expected.
Second, leaders create safety by making it easier to challenge authorities – i.e., leaders and experts. This means that we are looking for how often “normal” people challenge their boss or the smartest person on the team. When your people challenge YOU, we are moving in the right direction.
Psychological safety is created through behaviour and language. You talk and show it. Micro-aggressions are the most common reason why there is low safety in a team. These are not always words, but more often than not, behaviours like eye-rolling, frowning, glaring, or shaking the head (hand gestures even).
In my research, these 5 behaviours can be considered the “Deadly sins against psychological safety”
- Never satisfied with others’ work
- Sets unrealistically high expectations
- Unwilling to accept help or advice from others
- Hard to approach
I have also delimited 10 leadership behaviours that I call the “Virtuous acts of psychological safe leaders”
- Manages and shares the workload
- Solves conflicts proactively and constructively
- Good teacher
- Takes time to coach and develop others
- Treats people fairly even when they fail and make mistakes
- Asks questions to improve other’s ideas
- Makes work fun and enjoyable
- Concerned about the well-being of others
- Delivers on commitments to team members
- Encourages team members to help and support each other
So, it’s clear that there is more to Psychological safety than you might think. Start eliminating the deadly sins and implementing the virtues and you can make a huge difference.
Author of Safe2Great, keynote speaker on psychological safety and growth mindset