Research shows that ever-increasing interdependence in work has led to fundamental changes as to how teams do work. Time spent by management in collaborative activities has increased by 50% over the past two decades. More than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues. This is undoubtedly a positive trend for organisations. Groups innovate faster than individuals, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions. The goal, therefore, is to create and maintain teams that operate effectively and efficiently, where challenges are welcomed rather than avoided.
Most people go to work every day wanting to participate, contribute, share ideas and feel part of a team bigger than themselves. People, on joining organisations very quickly assess how their managers and peers react to them. Some organisations create an environment where it is easy for people to be themselves and to express their ideas while other organisations are places where people are defensive, cautious and self-protective. They may feel that their ideas are not sought out or valued and consequently they restrict their refrain from expressing themselves openly. In this context, problems can be suppressed or hidden and collaboration is diminished.
The term” psychological safety “was coined by the American professor, Amy Edmondson She was intrigued by the small risks that people face every day at work when interacting with others. She considered whether taking risks is encouraged and employees do not hesitate to do so. Thus her term “psychological safety “is used to describe a climate in organisations where people feel free and comfortable to express their ideas and be themselves. They do not fear being ridiculed, put-down or ignored when speaking out. Nor do they feel that non-conforming to the conventional way of approaching a problem will lead to repercussions or even exclusion.
In 2012 Google Launched its Project Aristotle to identify factors that create high -performing teams. Over two years it looked at 250 attributes of 180 active teams. Contrary to initial suppositions they found that team size, workload, seniority, tenure, colocation, and extroversion did not matter. There was also no consistent pattern in the way great teams structured themselves or in the processes they followed. What they ultimately found is that five dynamics distinguish outstanding teams from ordinary teams: psychological safety; dependability; structure and clarity; that work has meaning, and that work is impactful.
Of the five, the investigating experts concluded that psychological safety is by far the most critical element.
Google found that the dynamic of psychological safety is the core determining factor in teams which thrive and optimise performance. Moreover, individuals who are members of teams which embrace psychological safety are: less likely to leave; they are more likely to harness diverse ideas from their teammates; tend to generate more revenue, and are rated as effective twice as often by executives.
In organisations where psychological safety exists across the board, employees have a higher level of engagement and are prepared to take constructive risks. This means the organisation as a whole is more open to challenges and more innovative.
Psychological safety is an essential component of a style of leadership that revolves around the premise of inclusiveness. Leaders who are intent on modelling inclusive behaviour and fostering psychological safety typically engage in behaviours which embed psychological safety; Some of the most salient behaviours of this kind are: Balancing advocacy with the enquiry; make an effort to notice when people are unhappy, concerned or just want to disagree; show respect for each individual’s competence, status, and autonomy; create constructive conflict around ideas, tasks and processes and discourage personal conflicts.
These are skills that can be improved and even learned by leaders who do not naturally display them. Symmetra’s dedicated programs focussing on inclusive leadership using its unique online assessment tools ILI and TIPS to measure the levels of leader and group inclusive behaviour are designed to expand on these principles to make your organisation more inclusive and an environment recognised for its psychological safety.