LAURA CHAMBERS • 01 Oct 2020
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In this HOW webinar session, Giles was joined by Kate Hargreaves from Mosaic Partners to talk about Psychological Safety - what it is and what it isn’t it. In the current health crisis, looking after our own mental health, our colleagues, our friends and our employees has never been more important.
Kate is MD and Founder of Mosaic Partners, a people development agency based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne specialising in coaching leadership teams to improve culture and behaviour.
Psychological safety is a phrase first coined by Amy Edmondson, a behavioural scientist at Harvard University.
Essentially, in a psychological safe environment we are safe to show up, express ourselves, have our voice heard and be accepted without judgement and fear that somebody in our team is going to be malicious towards us.
A workplace without psychological safety can lead us to feel stress responses. We know this can result in a lack of creativity, we shut down, we don’t speak up and this is not a great environment to work in to get the best out of people.
We are experiencing a global pandemic and situations that are new to us all, and as a result, people are really suffering. It's never been more important to create psychological safety within our teams.
Many teams I work with don't have a team charter in place. Team Charters mean being explicit about what the key goals are, the priorities and the deliverables. How do we measure success, what is the shared vision of success, and most importantly what will you agree to as a team in terms of the behaviours to cultivate a psychologically safe environment where we can achieve everything we've set out to.
The team that leads the charter is critical. It is not something that is leader driven; it is the team agreeing what they need between each other to create maximum trust in a psychologically safe environment - what is okay and what is not okay.
Some assume it is where people feel very comfortable and safe with one another but it's actually the opposite. It's having an environment to feel safe in to have difficult conversations, address the tough issues and not be afraid.
Psychological safety is not where people can say what they want and without consequence. It's about agreeing what's acceptable and encourage that behaviour in the team.
Have a conversation about "what is psychological safety?". Help people understand what an unsafe psychological environment looks like.
Then think about increasing psychological safety as a group. What does that look like? What behaviours should we see and demonstrate between ourselves? That will help the team create space for psychological safety.
We can assess a team’s current levels of psychological safety against statements adapted from Amy Edmondson’s (1999) study and Shane Snow’s recent piece in Forbes. With your team, go through these questions and rate them 0 to 10.
Some examples of the questions are:
Complete your details below to receive a copy of Mosaic Partners' Psychological Safety - Team Assessment document
Some of the results might be difficult to look at but that's okay. If the scores on the questionnaire return low, then it’s a good place to start the conversation. Ask why the score is that way and what needs to happen to increase it.
The results should be discussed with the team rather than the leader - let them lead the process. The ultimate question is: 'what do we need to do as a team to make this a more psychologically safe environment and what are we signing up to together?'
It’s all about having a dialogue and it’s a unique process to every team. Some may choose to answer the questions individually then come together; and others prefer to go through the process together.
Most teams don't talk about their shared vision of success, goals and deliverables, it is just assumed with teams then working with just a set of assumptions rather than set goals and objectives.
Complete your details below to receive a copy of Mosaic Partners' Team Charter Activity and Template
It will be something people can sign up to – a simple, one-page document. When it’s implemented well, the team will call each other out and reward each other. Therefore, it's important they sign up to the group charter and decide what they want to do more of, and what do they want to eradicate.
There's lots of empirical research that shows us that when teams are feeling psychologically safe, they are more creative, more innovative, they have better relationships and as a result, performance rises.
Leaders need to become role models. Be open and honest - when leaders do this, they create a space for other people to do the same.
Yes, and I would encourage it. Teams should decide what's right for them and perhaps the overarching deliverables are then shared in the broader team. It's not necessarily about the Charter, but more about the conversations you're having to get there.
It is dependent on the organisation and how smaller teams are set up within the team. That's how viral change works; top down isn't always what works best and instead these pockets of good practice can really help.
Yes, we have seen teams where conflict has been reduced, but with the right kind of conflict increasing. When we see teams challenging each other and having difficult conversations then we know that's a psychologically safe environment. Seeing the right kind of conflict increase is something to be welcomed, as opposed to shied away from.
The organisations with the most challenges in their culture are often those when there is no conflict, and everything looks cosy and harmonious. That can because people do not feel psychologically safe.
This can all be done remotely, it’s about dedicating and carving out the time, starting the conversation, and continuing that conversation.
Another way is for the team leader acting as the team coach. They can get people together, ask those questions, facilitate the process as opposed to trying to do it all themselves.
It's important to recognise some people are genuinely finding remote working very difficult. Some of our feedback from organisations is that some individuals are not struggling with the job, but quite often it's their whole lives. Everything is amplified and it's about being kind, open and honest. This takes us back to people feeling safe to express vulnerabilities if they're struggling or having a challenge outside of work that may be impacting them inside work.
This is where leaders need to become role models. An example of a chat I had recently, the person said they felt they needed to be strong for their workforce, but, it’s the opposite. Telling your team you're having a difficult day is a powerful statement; and being open creates an environment where it's okay to have those conversations. If you have good relationships and you create an open culture, then people will come to you and speak up.
An employee assistance program (or referral sheet) that the team is culturally encouraged to do can also be hugely important.
We expected to see a lack of connection to people, but we've seen the opposite for most of our clients with team culture improving because of remote work. The flip side is some people are really struggling with remote working, for example with young children at home it can be logistically challenging. Encourage people to speak up if they are struggling and look at how to alleviate some of those struggles. Often the brave face to put on for work just exacerbates the stress.
Keep your own boat afloat but think about your colleagues too. How are they, how are their boats, where are the holes in their boats and how could you support them?
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