Diversity of thought and different backgrounds have become increasingly recognized as invaluable aspects of a high-functioning team. They are attributed to high levels of innovation and the consideration of diverse perspectives.
Companies can only harness the value of having diverse perspectives when team members feel comfortable vocalizing their thoughts.
An incredibly important aspect of an effective team dynamic is psychological safety. This term was introduced by Harvard organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson and is defined as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” A team that embraces diverse ideas and allows members to challenge the status quo can allow for increased success and higher team retention rates as members will feel more comfortable making contributions.
Posing a simple question like “What is the goal for this project?” may sound simple, but often times people fear that asking such questions will present themselves as ignorant. Creating an environment that encourages team members to feel comfortable sharing their questions, big or small, is a crucial aspect of cultivating psychological safety.
To determine whether a team has psychological safety consider the following:
- Do all team members feel valued?
- Can team members take risks without fear of backlash?
- Do team members openly voice their concerns?
- Is curiosity encouraged or deterred?
- Can team members ask for help?
- Is it okay to fail?
If these questions reveal areas that require team improvement, the next 3 tools can be incorporated to create a safer workplace environment:
- Demonstrate Engagement
Being present when conversing with colleagues will make them feel more valued during interactions. Things as simple as closing a laptop or silencing a phone can decrease distractions during conversations. Body language is another powerful tool when creating an engaged presence. Nonverbal cues such as facing the speaker, making consistent eye contact, and nodding occasionally demonstrate active listening.
Equally important listening habits include asking thoughtful questions and presenting follow-up questions if necessary. Once an idea has been shared, recap what has been said to demonstrate understanding. If further clarification is necessary this is the opportunity to ensure both parties are on the same page.
During conversations, it is imperative to avoid placing blame. Trying to find someone at fault will discourage team members from taking risks and may lead to dishonesty in the future. Rather than pointing fingers, work to find solutions for the problem at hand and develop methods to prevent future issues. Use this situation as a learning opportunity.
Leaders can determine the engagement of their team members through pulse or engagement surveys.
2. Cultivate Inclusivity in Interpersonal Settings
Actively developing an inclusive environment for team members can create an open environment that facilitates sharing. Provide information about personal working habits and preferences. Encourage other team members to share their working styles as well. Knowing more about how different people work allows for a greater understanding of what to expect from each other in the future.
Expressing gratitude for team members' work establishes an inclusive environment since members know that their contributions are valued. Along with spreading positivity, preventing negative talk among colleagues is equally important. When overseeing a team, complaints about team members should be listened to and taken into consideration, however, spreading gossip or unnecessary negativity should be shut down immediately.
Creating inclusivity can also manifest through building rapport. Ask team members about their life outside of work and try to remember important aspects of their personal life. If team members share important upcoming events, inquire about the event later on.
Establishing open communication about meetings is another important aspect. Prior to or at the beginning of meetings, communicate the intentions of the meetings so everyone can be on the same page. Also, make it easily accessible for team members to schedule meetings and provide ample availability to allow for such meetings.
3. Facilitate Open Decision Making
Ensuring a collaborative decision-making process will allow team members to feel valued. Encourage input and feedback from all individuals. When working to create a more open environment, team members may not initially feel comfortable voicing their insights. To counteract this, invite the team to share criticism and vocalize questions. This can be done by posing open-ended questions or areas of personal concern.
When facilitating meetings, restrain from interrupting members of the team. Cutting others off may discourage members from sharing in the future. Furthermore, prevent team members from interrupting one another. This can be done by immediately shutting down the interrupter or even circling back to the individual who was interrupted.
Another effective method for open decision-making is communicating clearly. Make sure to articulate soundly and speak at a volume that is audible to everyone. Prompt others to speak at an appropriate volume as well. If everyone can hear the conversation and understand what is being discussed, they will be more likely to contribute.
When reaching conclusions, explain the decision-making process thoroughly and articulate how the final decision was reached. While relaying the conclusion, acknowledge input and positive contributions from other team members. Although not all team members will be on board with each decision, this will show that their work in reaching the conclusion was beneficial.
4. Encourage Risks
People often try their best to avoid facing failure. By doing so this limits potential successes or learning opportunities. Have an honest conversation about failure and why it shouldn't be a point of fear. This conversation can be a moment to be vulnerable and share personal experiences dealing with failure. Open the conversation to others to share their thoughts on failure as well.
Encourage team members to take educated risks by leading by example. Team members will feel more comfortable taking risks if they see this in action. The team as a whole will shift from a mindset of perfectionism to a mindset of growth. Embrace mistakes and discuss takeaways one on one or in a group setting.
When creating a risk-taking environment, team members must be supported to other executive members. Celebrate the successes of team members during the risk-taking journey and share the learning moments as well. Ensure that these risks aren’t portrayed negatively to executives as this will prevent team members from employing creativity in the future.
Utilizing these steps can build psychological safety among existing team members. Focusing on a culture of psychological safety is equally important during the employment process. During hiring be conscious of candidates that possess a positive mindset. Consider which candidates would empower their team members and further the progress toward a safe team environment. Team members who are motivating and proactive bring out the best in those around them and can positively impact the productivity of the team.
Achieving psychological safety takes a conscious effort from the entire team. As a manager, it is crucial that a positive example is set to encourage a risk-free environment for all.