#104 Communicating Psychological Safety

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Are you communicating and enabling psychological safety? Psychological safety is a key contributor to team performance. A climate of psychological safety means increased learning, creativity, productivity, satisfaction and engagement. Andrea defines what psychological safety is and is not, then she shares several strategies for how we can communicate psychological safety. There are mindsets to adopt, behaviors to action, and words to say to communicate psychological safety.

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CONTENTS

  • Summary
  • Resources
  • Transcript

SUMMARY

Psychological Safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” Harvard Researcher Prof Amy Edmundson

Two imperatives re: Psychological Safety

  1. Psychological Safety is a culture, a team climate. It is ongoing and it is NOT an activity that can be checked off your TO DO list. So don’t be tempted to make Psychological Safety something that you can complete. It’s more like a paradigm change that needs constant stoking.
  2. Psychological Safety is enabled from the top down. It is NOT a grassroots initiative, and it is NOT everyone’s responsibility. It is the leader’s responsibility. Team members will follow the leaders’ queues. You cannot delegate Psychological Safety.

Three ways to encourage Psychological Safety for your team

1️⃣ MINDSET:

Increased self-awareness, vulnerability is an asset, celebrate the identification of issues, frame mistakes as learnings

2️⃣ ACTIONS:

Encourage participation. Enable a variety of opportunities for making voices heard: publicly and privately, formally and informally, regularly and ad hoc.

  • Setting aside time in every meeting for raising issues and asking Qs.
  • Creating an online and/or physical suggestion box

Actions demonstrate inclusivity. Seek differences. Utilize the unique skills and talents of individual team members. Assign tasks that leverage unique, individual skills

3️⃣ WORDS:

Proactively seek regular feedback, Share mistakes. Ask for help and encourage others to do the same. Thank team members for bringing up problems. Publicly commend those who voice issues. (“Thank you. Tell me more…”). Acknowledge and celebrate risk-takers. Publicly recognize unique skills and perspectives. Reward collaboration and call out those who undermine,

Talk About Talk #104 - Psychological Safety - four office workers high-fivingImage from Canva

Andrea’s Top 3 Recommendations

  1. Make improvements in Psychological Safety a key goal for Senior Leadership. Create a plan with specific tactics or levers, measure progress through survey questions.
  2. Implement more ways for team members to participate. Create list of ways voices are heard currently and brainstorm other ideas. Share list with team and ask for more ideas (publicly and privately, formally and informally, regularly and ad hoc)
  3. Make sharing of mistakes a regular part of meetings. Share your own mistakes and encourage others to do the same. Celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities.

Talk About Talk - Psychological Safety - asking questionsImage from Canva

7 Survey Qs to Measure Psychological Safety

  1. If you make a mistake on your team, is it held against you?
  2. Are you able to bring up problems and tough issues?
  3. Do people on the team sometimes reject others for being different?
  4. Is it safe to take a risk?
  5. Is it difficult to ask other team members for help?
  6. Do people on the team deliberately act to undermine your efforts?
  7. Are your unique skills and talents valued and utilized?


RESOURCES

Psychological Safety

Dr. Andrea Wojnicki & Talk About Talk


TRANSCRIPT

I have a question for you. What do you think makes some teams or some firms more successful than others? What factors differentiate high-performing teams and organizations from those that are less successful? Any idea?

Is it when the leader clearly communicates the team’s goals and objectives? Is it creating opportunities for positive work relationships – like hosting cool offsites or creating an awesome atmosphere in the lobby where people chit chat? – with bean bag chairs, pinball machines and an open bar? Maybe it’s paying people more. Or perhaps the secret to a high performing team is as simple as hiring top talent in the first place.

Again, if you had to choose, what’s the single most important factor that contributes to team performance?

The answer is in the title for this episode. The factor that research shows contributes most to team performance is a culture of Psychological Safety.

Recently, as I’ve been working with a few different firms to coach their people on improving their communication skills, we’ve evolved from tactics to general mindsets, and then to organizational culture. And the topic of Psychological Safety has come up a few times.

So, the question is, how can we communicate psychological safety?

INTRO

Greetings and welcome to Talk About Talk episode number 104, focusing on Communicating psychological safety.!

I’m your executive communication coach, Dr. Andrea Wojnicki (please call me Andrea!). I‘m so delighted you’re here! Whether you’re an ambitious executive, or perhaps you have a growth mindset. Or perhaps both? If this sounds like you, then you’re in the right place If you go to the TAT.com website, you’ll find online courses, tip sheets, corporate workshops, one-on-one coaching, the archive of this bi-weekly podcast, AND, I really hope you’ll sign up for the free weekly communication skills training newsletter.

  1. Psychological safety. You may have heard and read about this phenomenon before, and even if you haven’t, you can probably guess to some extent what it is, just by the words. Psychological. Safety.

In this episode, you’re going to learn a valid and practical definition of psychological safety. The definition that the researchers who study it use. You’ll learn what psychological safety is and what it is not. There are some REALLY important misconceptions or imperatives that you need to know. You’re also going to learn how to create a culture of psychological safety. I’ve broken this down for you into the mindset, the actions or behaviors, and importantly, the communication or the words that will help you facilitate a psychologically safe culture for your team. I’m going to conclude with my top three recommendations that you might consider to help you pursue and accelerate the adoption of a psychologically safe culture for your organization.

“PHEW”

That’s a lot to get through, isn’t it?? But don’t worry, as always, I got you covered. You don’t need to take notes. If you check out the show notes on the talkabouttalk.com website, you’ll find a succinct summary. So just sit back and relax, or keep doing whatever you’re doing, driving, walking… you know the drill. You listen, I take notes… Then you access the summary in the shownotes later – on the talkabouttalk.com website. I told you – I got you!

OK, let me start with this. Have you ever heard of the Project Aristotle? If you’re a leader or an aspiring leader, this project is worth knowing.

Ten years ago, in 2012, Google shifted some of its focus, in terms of data analytics, inward. As we all know, Google has tons and tons of data. That’s how they seem to know what we’re searching for before we even know. And how they know what ads to put in front of us. In the early 2000s, Google decided to leverage some of its data to understand what factors contributed to successful teams internally. Remember the question I asked you at the beginning of this episode. What factors contribute to the success of some teams and not of others.

According to what I read; Google’s People Operations department looked at a bunch of factors that might contribute to team performance. For example, they looked at social habits, which makes sense. If individual team members are socializing regularly, like eating lunch together or whatever, that might contribute to team performance. SO, they looked at social habits. They also looked at individual traits of team leaders and team members. Like say… COMMUNICATION SKILLS. Do individual traits or skills such as listening contribute to team performance? You betcha!

So, this research was extensive. Many many teams, many many factors were evaluated. Long story short, it took the Project Aristotle folks at Google a long time to identify the factor associated with team performance, but when they finally did, you can guess what factor was at the top of the list: PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY.

Now, Google did not invent the term. psychological safety has been around for decades. There’s documentation of the term psychological safety” being used as early as the 1960’s. But Project Aristotle really put the phenomenon on that map, as they say.

In the early 2000’s I had the incredible privilege of taking an organizational behavior class at Harvard Business School from Professor Amy Edmondson. Her research focused on team performance and yes, on psychological safety. Her research looked at team performance in a variety of contexts, including healthcare (like operating rooms), manufacturing, and so on.

Professor Edmondson’s research is highly regarded, so I like to use her definition of Psychological Safety. Are you ready?

Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” – Harvard Prof Amy Edmundson

OK – so that’s probably relatively close to what you’d guess to be the definition. You might be asking yourself – what’s the big deal here? Why is this type of culture something that I should pay attention to? Why is Andrea talking about this? And why should I keep listening?

Well, the research is ridiculously consistent in demonstrating that psychologically safe teams perform.

Specifically, psychologically safe teams demonstrate increased learning, creativity, productivity, satisfaction and engagement.

Whether you’re a CEO or a C-Suite executive leading an organization, or whether you’re leading a small team, I can bet that you’d like to improve learning, creativity, productivity, satisfaction and engagement. That’s what creating a psychologically safe culture can do.

Before we go any further. I want to share what psychological safety IS and what it is NOT. There are 2 really impt things here:

  1. Psychological safety is a culture. A team climate. It is ongoing and it is NOT an activity that can be checked off your TO DO list. So don’t be tempted to make Psychological Safety something that you can complete. It’s more like a paradigm change that needs constant stoking.
  2. Psychological safety is enabled from the top down. It is NOT a grass roots initiative, and it is NOT everyone’s responsibility. It is the leader’s responsibility. Team members will follow the leaders’ queues in terms of Psychological safety. You cannot delegate PS.

Both of these things are really really important. Psychological Safety is not one and done. And Psychological Safety is not something you can delegate. In other words, Psychological Safety is the responsibility of the leader, and he or she needs to encourage or enable that culture consistently over time.

If you got that, then you’re ready to learn HOW to create a psychologically safe culture.

How to Create a Culture of Psychological Safety

As an executive communication coach, what I recommend you do is address three things to encourage Psychological Safety in your team:

  1. your own mindset,
  2. your actions, and
  3. your words,

Then you can enable your immediate direct reports to do the same, then encourage Psychological Safety to trickle down throughout the organization.

MINDSET:

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Vulnerability is an asset, Celebrate the identification of issues, frame mistakes as learnings

ACTIONS:

  • Do everything you can to encourage participation. Enable a variety of opportunities for making voices heard: publicly and privately, formally and informally, regularly and ad hoc.
    • Setting aside time in every meeting for raising issues and asking Qs.
    • Creating an online and/or physical suggestion box
  • Actions demonstrate inclusivity. Seek differences. Utilize the unique skills and talents of individual team members. Assign tasks that leverage unique, individual skills

WORDS:

  • Proactively seek regular feedback
  • Share mistakes. Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, talks about how her father…
  • Ask for help and encourage others to do the same
  • Thank team members for bringing up problems. Publicly commending those who voice issues. (“Thank you. Tell me more…”)
  • Acknowledge and celebrate risk-takers
  • Publicly recognize unique skills and perspectives
  • Reward collaboration and call out those who undermine

Andrea’s Top 3 Recommendations

  • Make improvements in Psychological Safety a key goal for Senior Leadership in 2022. Create a plan with specific tactics or levers, measure progress through survey in 6mo and year-end. Present draft plan to senior team and ask for help…
  • Create list of ways voices are heard currently and brainstorm other ideas. Share list with team and ask for more ideas (again – publicly and privately, formally and informally, regularly and ad hoc,…)
  • Make sharing of mistakes a regular part of status meetings. Of every meeting, frankly. Of every conversation. Sharing your own mistakes and encouraging others to do the same. Celebrating mistakes as learning opportunities.

OK, so that’s it for Psychological Safety today. I told you this was a dense episode. I hope you’ll checkout the shownotes on the talk about talk .com website so you can read the summary there.

I hope you’ll keep in mind two things as you proceed to communicate PS:

  1. Psychological Safety is a culture. A team climate. It is ongoing and it is NOT an activity that can be checked off your TO DO list. So don’t be tempted to make Psychological Safety something that you can complete. It’s more like a paradigm change that needs constant stoking.
  2. Psychological Safety is enabled from the top down. It is NOT a grass roots initiative, and it is NOT everyone’s responsibility. It is the leader’s responsibility. Team members will follow the leaders’ queues in terms of Psychological Safety. You cannot delegate Psychological Safety.

As you create your plan to enable and encourage Psychological Safety, please consider the three ways you can make this happen. It’s through your mindset, your actions and your words. Specifically you might consider adopting 1 or more of the recommendations that I highlighted, including

  1. Formally making Psychological Safety a key goal for senior leadership. Make it part of what they are evaluated on.
  2. Brainstorm ways to encourage people to speak up – publicly and privately, formally and informally, regularly and ad hoc
  3. Encourage people to share their mistakes. Make that a part of status meetings.

Alright, I hope you’re feeling motivated to take action to create a Psychological Safety culture for your team – whether it’s an organization or a small project team. As a leader, you have an opportunity here to enable Psychological Safety and ultimately enable your team’s performance.

Let me know how it goes or if you have any Qs. Please email me at andrea@talkabouttalk.com or you can go to the talk about talk.com website. Click on contact and send me a message there.

Again, while you’re on the website, I really hope you’ll sign up for the Talk About Talk newsletter! This is your chance to get free communication skills coaching from me every week in a simple-to-digest weekly email. Just go to talk abouttalk.com to sign up or email me directly and I’ll add you to the list. You can email me anytime at Andrea@TalkAboutTalk.com.

THANKS for LISTENING. Talk soon!

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