what happens when you or someone in your business makes a mistake? 6 tips on how to build psychological safety

what happens when you or someone in your business makes a mistake? 6 tips on how to build psychological safety

by | Nov 15, 2021 | mindset, transformation

Psychological safety is a term which you may be familiar with, or it might be completely new for you. Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson created the term to explain the environment and relationships where individuals believed “that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”.

Based on the findings of “Project Aristotle”, Google developed a list of the five key elements that make great teams successful: psychological safety, dependability, structure, clarity, meaning, and impact. The researchers defined psychological safety as, “team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other”.

A few of the benefits in building a psychologically safe culture are:

  • A higher ability to manage change
  • An increase in problem solving, that can lead to business breakthroughs
  • It motivates people to be more productive, engaged and confident
  • It has a positive impact on employee retention and engagement levels
  • An increase overall wellbeing and happiness.

Reflecting on your own workplace, your business or your leadership style here are six tips on how to build psychological safety across your work and life as a whole:

Encourage active listening

  • How often are you really listening to what is happening for those you work with or lead?
  • How often are you checking in on how people are really feeling?
  • How often are you sharing what’s going well and what’s not going well?
  • How often are you acting on what you’re learning?

Provide room to experiment and fail to increase innovation

  • How can you increase intelligent risk taking?
  • How can you lower the fear of failure resulting in quicker improvements to products or services?
  • How and where are you providing room to experiment and fail?

Replace blame with being curious first

The alternative to blame is curiosity. If you believe you already know what the other person is thinking, then you’re not ready to have a conversation. Look at adopting a learning mindset, knowing you don’t have all the facts and start your conversation from a place of looking to learn more.

Inclusive decision making

Share what is going on in the business and ask for input. Be open. If you ask a lot of questions to encourage others to voice their ideas and to demonstrate a willingness for diverse perspectives and ideas, it shows you value their perspectives. It also shows people that by speaking up they can input and influence decision making too.

Be transparent

How honest and open are you as a leader or owner of your business? Acknowledge when you have made a mistake and be willing to admit you don’t have all the answers. Acknowledging gaps in your knowledge creates room for others to speak up, to fill the gap and also to own and share learnings from their own mistakes.

Celebrate and recognise the contribution of ideas

  • How do you celebrate and recognise ideas in your business or team?
  • What can you do to set up an ideas scheme or recognition awards?
  • How can you show the business impact that ideas have?
  • How can you celebrate the friendships and working relationships of colleagues?

If you’re looking to test how psychologically safe your team, executive or those you work with feel, use Amy Edmondson’s questions.

On a scale of 1 to 5. 1 being strongly disagree, 2 being disagree, 3 being neutral, 4 being agree, and 5 being strongly agree rank the following statements:

  1. On this team*, I understand what is expected of me.
  2. We value outcomes more than outputs or inputs, and nobody needs to “look good”.
  3. If I make a mistake on this team, it is never held against me.
  4. When something goes wrong, we work as a team to find the systemic cause.
  5. All members of this team feel able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  6. Members of this team never reject others for being different and nobody is left out.
  7. It is safe for me to take a risk on this team.
  8. It is easy for me to ask other members of this team for help.
  9. Nobody on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  10. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilised.

*You could replace team with business and do the survey twice. Once to find out about your specific team and then again from a business wide perspective. If you’re working for yourself, you can reflect on your own style.

When those you work with, lead or do business with feel safe and supported, they are more likely to be motivated, productive and confident in working with you again.

As the quote by Aristotle says, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”, and hence the name behind the original Google research project.

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