Efforts to improve the workplace by incorporating research have led to the creation of more diverse and inclusive workplaces, which has continued to enrich our outlook on building a safe and efficient workplace.
Recently, Google-led research called “Project Aristotle” looked into the composition of an ideal team at work. The Google team found that there were five key dynamics behind a successful team: psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact. While all five factors are crucial to team dynamics, psychological safety stood out as the most important.
We’ll look into the meaning and stages of psychological safety at work with the aim of understanding its value and successfully integrating it into the workplace.
What is psychological safety?
Feeling safe, secure, and content within a team is an indicator of a psychologically safe workplace. According to Amy Edmondson, the organizational behavioral scientist who coined the phrase, psychological safety is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” In addition, it is characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect that allows the members of a team to be comfortable being themselves and speaking their minds.
Manifestations of psychological safety in the workplace include team members feeling safe and secure when speaking up, being their true selves, and sharing their honest thoughts and opinions, such as starting a new software POC without being blamed even if the POC fails. Workers should also feel comfortable enough to raise seemingly naive questions or even disagree with the way some things are being run in your company.
Psychological safety does not require everyone to be uncharacteristically nice all the time. It only means that the teams at work are ready to embrace conflict because each team member trusts the team and vice versa.
Value of psychological safety
If people in an organization do not feel psychologically safe, they will either quit or become detached from the group. The latter can be more harmful because disengaged team members can be resentful, unproductive, and obstructive to organizational initiatives. In other words, the lack of psychological safety at work has major consequences for the business and for employees. Meanwhile, a safe workplace allows you to retain your top employees and ensure that employees are making valuable contributions.
Another consequence of the lack of security when speaking up is that the organization will not be able to prevent failure because people are uncomfortable talking about practices that are ineffective. When employees are fearful and unengaged, the organization will lose the opportunity to maximize their talents and strengths.
A climate of fear and uncertainty hurts innovation while a climate of respect and trust will elevate all the organization’s initiatives. Hence, building a workplace founded on psychological safety can boost employee morale and is crucial for every stakeholder.
4 stages of psychological safety at work
Psychological safety at work begins with a feeling of belonging. Before employees can even formulate and verbalize ideas for improving the organization, they need to feel that they are accepted. Otherwise, employees will not take the risk of asking questions and making bold suggestions.
Dr. Timothy Clark, author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation, outlined the four stages that employees need to pass through before they feel comfortable enough to challenge the workplace’s status quo.
So, what are the 4 stages of psychological safety at work?
- Inclusion Safety: This stage focuses on satisfying the need for belonging and acceptance within the group. It’s about creating an environment where individuals feel valued and recognized for their unique attributes.
- Learner Safety: This stage involves creating an atmosphere that promotes learning and growth, where employees can ask questions, give and receive feedback, and aren’t afraid to make mistakes.
- Contributor Safety: In this stage, employees should feel comfortable and secure using their skills and talents to contribute meaningfully to the team and the broader organization.
- Challenger Safety: The final stage involves employees feeling safe enough to challenge the status quo and voice their opinions for the betterment of the organization. Those reaching this level are set to become effective leaders.
Now, let’s get in to the details:
Stage 1: Inclusion Safety
Psychological safety at work all starts with Inclusion Safety, which satisfies the human need to feel connected and accepted in a group. In this stage, employees should feel safe enough to be themselves because they feel accepted for who they are. Employees’ unique attributes and characteristics should be fully recognized and accepted. If your company suffers from a lack of human connections, consider using LEAD.bot to create events such as coffee buddy meetup events to increase the opportunity for colleagues to casually meet up and open themselves to each other.
Stage 2: Learner Safety
After establishing a sense of belonging, the next stage, Learner Safety, addresses the employees’ need for growth and personal development. This stage is characterized by a culture where employees feel safe to explore, experiment, ask questions, give and receive feedback, and even make mistakes. Guidelines play a pivotal role in this stage. When introducing programs such as LEAD.bot, having a comprehensive Code of Conduct and providing a list of icebreaker topics can encourage open conversation, foster mutual respect, and help shape a conducive learning environment.
Stage 3: Contributor Safety
Having found their footing in the organization and its culture, employees now feel the need to utilize their skills and talents to contribute meaningfully. This leads to the stage of Contributor Safety, where employees should feel confident and secure in adding value to the organization. Encouraging participation in brainstorming sessions, promoting idea-sharing, and recognizing individual contributions can foster this sense of security and involvement, encouraging employees to take initiative and excel in their roles.
Stage 4: Challenger Safety
Finally, the stage of Challenger Safety revolves around empowering employees to take an active role in the company’s continuous improvement. At this stage, employees feel safe enough to voice their opinions, challenge the status quo, and propose innovative solutions to improve the organization. This stage is often characterized by employees who are well on their way to becoming effective leaders. Encouraging such behavior and facilitating open discussions not only nurtures future leaders but also fosters a culture of innovation and progress.
How to create psychological safety in the workplace
In a TED Talk, Amy Edmondson pointed out that there are three main considerations in building a psychologically safe work environment. First, you should framework as a learning problem and not an execution problem. With the correct framework, team members will focus on what can be learned from the process and not just whether or not they can execute what is required of them. Next is to acknowledge fallibility. Even the best employees and leaders make mistakes. Recognizing this allows team members to avoid problems such as blaming each other when projects go wrong, and emphasizes accountability among individuals and teams. Last but not least, it is vital to model curiosity. Leaders and team members alike should ask lots of questions to make sure that they are on the same page and on the right track when doing an assignment.
Besides Edmondson’s advice, there are simple and practical ways to ensure that your workplace is psychologically safe.
• Include your team in decision-making. Having weekly check-ins, and open discussions where members are free to write or state their opinions is one way to include employees in making decisions.
• Ensure that everyone has had a chance to speak and give suggestions before announcing which suggestions you support.
• Whenever possible, experiment with different ideas rather than settling on one option.
• Appreciate and properly engage team members who challenge your views.
• Encourage group discussions for settling conflict instead of people keeping problems to themselves.
• Establish norms for handling suggestions, failure, and even conflict. Routines will help people remember and continuously practice healthy behaviors.
• Explicitly state that psychological safety is a priority in your workplace. When psychological safety is expected and prioritized, you can train members more directly about psychological safety.
Here are some examples focusing on psychological safety when using LEAD.bot:
Virtual Coffee Chats:
- Gratitude Sharing: Invite team members to share something they’re grateful for. This can create a positive atmosphere and build closer connections.
- Discussing Work-life Balance: Encourage conversations about maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and share strategies or tips.
- Personal Success Stories: Allow employees to share personal achievements or instances where they overcame obstacles, fostering an environment of support and celebration.
- Unconscious Bias Training: Have conversations about unconscious bias and how it impacts the workplace. This can make employees more aware and understanding of each other’s experiences.
- Safe Spaces: Encourage discussions where employees can express their feelings or concerns about DE&I in a judgement-free zone.
- Scenario Discussions: Discuss hypothetical scenarios that may arise in the workplace related to DE&I, and brainstorm ways to handle them.
- Mental Health Conversations: Encourage open conversations about mental health and stress management, providing resources and creating an environment where it’s safe to discuss these topics.
- Feedback Culture: Promote a culture where constructive feedback is welcomed and valued, helping to improve and grow the team collectively.
Take The LEAD: Enhancing Psychological Safety and Team Collaboration
Psychological safety is a cornerstone of a productive and healthy work environment. It’s a feeling of safety and security that comes from trust and respect in the workplace. As a vital element in great teamwork, psychological safety also directly impacts the success or failure of an organization’s initiatives by influencing employee retention and productivity.
A company culture app like LEAD.bot can significantly bolster this sense of psychological safety. It serves as an inclusive platform where everyone can connect, feel warmly welcomed, learn, express ideas, and contribute towards the company’s progress.
LEAD.bot‘s unique feature lies in its ability to serendipitously connect employees across teams. This creates a vibrant tapestry of interactions and conversations that not only foster collaboration but can also help implement robust diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs. Such programs are critical in promoting a sense of justice and fostering collective growth within an organization. To make the most of these diversity, equity, and inclusion DE&I matching programs, we recommend companies to establish clear communication rules and embed these rules as a hyperlink in LEAD.bot’s introductory message.
Furthermore, LEAD.bot can be an instrumental tool in orchestrating meetings, virtual coffee breaks, and mentorship programs to reinforce workplace psychological safety as well. . Such initiatives help reinforce psychological safety within the workplace in several ways:
- They involve members in decision-making, making everyone feel valued and heard.
- They appreciate team members who challenge the status quo, thus encouraging innovation and progress.
- They help create norms and routines for suggesting ideas, addressing conflicts, and managing failure, thereby promoting a culture of learning and growth.
- They explicitly declare that psychological safety is a priority, emphasizing the organization’s commitment to its employees.
- They model behaviors that enhance psychological safety, like curiosity, fostering a culture of open-mindedness and exploration.
By championing psychological safety and prioritizing inclusive and open collaboration, organizations can Take the LEAD and create a thriving work environment that promotes productivity, employee well-being, and success.