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Do you dare to be you at your workplace?

Updated: Mar 1



Have you ever felt like you should have spoken up but decided it was better for your career just to shut up? One of the most amazing books I read last year was precisely about that. Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School Professor, defines psychological safety as "a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up about ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes." Members of teams with psychological safety feel respected, accepted and have freedom of expression. These teams feel safe to take risks [1]. If you are lucky enough to be part of such a group, you can show and engage yourself without any fear of consequences of career, status, or self-image [2]. A goal worth pursuing but requires courage form the leaders and team members since you need to admit that you can make mistakes. The concept of psychological safety emerged half a century ago in the organisational science field, and empirical research has widely flourished in recent years [3]. It has been an important area of discussion in teams, leadership, healthcare, behavioural management, and the field of psychology.



How does psychological safety influence team productivity?


Why should businesses care about the topic? A wide variety of research insisted that psychological safety directly influences work performance [4]' [5]. Moreover, safety climate, organisational support, and productivity emphasise psychological safety benefits on work engagement [6]' [7]. Learning behaviour of the teams includes obtaining and processing data that brings improvement. Moreover, such behaviours entail sharing information, seeking help or feedback, discussing errors, and taking risks. These activities help teams understand the situation, changes in the environment, learning about what customers require and the consequences of previous actions. As a result, these outcomes increase the productivity of teams.


Team learning behaviour


However, the importance of these outcomes usually goes unnoticed in organisations. Team members in organisations with low psychological safety are reluctant to talk about their errors[10] and are unwilling to seek help [11]. Psychological safety, on the other hand, affects the behavioural outcomes of teams, such as individual learning [12], team learning[13], and team creativity [14]. Research shows that team learning behaviour is associated with the formulation of performance-oriented ideas, enhanced problem-solving skills that result in developing a competitive organisation [15].


Trust


Trust is a significant antecedent of psychological safety. Psychological safety does involve interpersonal trust but it goes beyond it. It is referred to as a climate where mutual respect and interpersonal trust make people comfortable to be themselves. Trust is defined as an expectation that team members will make decisions that would be favourable to an individual and that the individual is making oneself vulnerable to those actions[16].

Moreover, according to the broaden and build effect, positive emotions such as curiosity, trust, confidence, and inspiration broaden awareness and bring forth open-mindedness, motivation, resilience, persistency, creativity, novelty, along with building social, psychological, and physical resources. To make psychological safety a group construct, it needs to make sense to the team.


Team effectiveness


Team members assess the team's ability to perform job-related tasks[17] successfully. Confidence in teams' abilities affects performance and brings team members activities parallel to the team level [18]. Several empirical studies claim that psychological safety plays an essential role in workplace effectiveness [19]. In short, there is ample evidence that team psychological safety is essential in a workplace as it is associated with positive outcomes such as employee attitudes, innovation, knowledge sharing, creativity, communication, and voice behaviours [20]. It is also positively linked with team effectiveness and productivity [21].



What can we do to create psychological safe workplaces?


Since psychological safety brings improved productivity in the workplace, organisations should be motivated to develop it. Google Project Aristotle emphasised the importance of psychological safety as a component for team effectiveness. Researchers also describe some other factors that can affect team effectiveness. These factors include dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact. The following steps improve psychological safety in the workplace:


● Include employers in decision making. While making decisions, ask for feedback and input. That will enhance the sense of belonging and confidence.


● Promote healthy conflicts. Allow team members to ask questions. That makes them feel respected and enables them to express their opinions in a judgment-free environment.


● Be aware of double-bind communication, in which an individual or the group receives conflicting messages, one negating the other. It affects the ability to understand the situation and opt for a solution. Moreover, it leaves teams disengaged and frustrated.


● As a leader, make yourself available to employees. Availability enhances the feeling of being psychologically safe as it fosters the sense that employees are listened to, and they can contact you in a time of need.


● Have an open mindset! Bring everyone together on one page that helps teams connect and work together for the greater good.


Positive interpersonal relationships bring about psychological safety. Positive relationships, a better teamwork climate, and influential role models play an essential role. Similarly, the relationship between team members and team leader is essential to influence psychological safety. Leaders who show supportive behaviours such as openness and inclusiveness can foster psychological safety.

Trust and peer support are factors that enhances the psychological safety among teams. It builds with time as team members spend some time together and share various positive experiences, including interpersonally risky behaviours. While trusting, supporting, and positive interpersonal relationships are essential for building psychological safety, it doesn't mean that team will not face any problem or conflict. Having a productive conflict, such as disagreements in viewpoints about the tasks and knowing how to deal with it, is part of honest and open communication. Such differences in opinions and ideas can lead to learning and improved performance.



A well functioning employee is a productive employee


Psychological safety is a belief that enables anyone to communicate and work without any fear of judgment and negative consequences. Psychological safety is not only effective at the individual level but needed in a team. It allows a team to bring out creativity, trust, resilience, better learning, and enhanced performance. Organisations must take appropriate steps to develop psychological safety for a better company climate and increase employee satisfaction. Are you ready?



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