Create a Thriving Organization with Psychological Safety

By Caroline Van Dyke
on Dec 20, 2017 1:15:00 PM


At the end of the day, organizations are continuously asking themselves: How do we get our people to do their best work? It comes down to the culture you create. As University of North Carolina professor Barbara Fredrickson states, “We become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe.”

In order to embrace a culture of continuous learning and development, organizations must prioritize a key cultural imperative: psychological safety. After all, according to Google, psychological safety ranked number one among a list of five important traits of successful teams.Without a team dynamic that promotes the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake, people don’t feel comfortable or in the right mindset to give and receive thoughtful feedback to grow together.

So, how do you ensure you create an environment where people feel like they can do their best work, and deliver their highest potential? Here are the top indicators that your organization is promoting psychological safety:

Be in it together.

By recognizing others on your team as equals with the same human needs, you’re able to develop a culture that is naturally more trustworthy and positive. At the end of the day, most people want the same things. They want to be heard, respected, and appreciated. They have their own motives, opinions, and insights. Ultimately, they want to be successful and happy. If you’re creating an atmosphere of mutual respect, you’re on the right track.

Admit errors.

This allows for open dialogue about how to make things better in the future and fosters a climate of openness. If employees don’t feel safe to bring up potentially contentious issues, or polarizing opinions, your organization will be out of ‘learning mode.’ Knowing you can fail actually promotes higher performance, reducing the fight-or-flight response that limits creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and the confidence to see things through.

Promote curiosity.

Choose to be curious about problems rather than blaming others for what went wrong. Mistakes happen, but blame rarely quells conflict—it actually escalates it. This produces unwanted side effects like defensiveness, then disengagement. Be sure to come at a problem with questions, and with the end goal of understanding the problem and working towards a solution together. By approaching a problem collaboratively and armed with understanding, peers are more likely to feel supported in problem-solving rather than attacked.

Anticipate and plan.

So, you know you need to give some feedback or relay some information—great! But have you taken a step back to consider how the feedback could be received? It can be easy to see the issue from your own perspective, but take some time to empathize and explore potential reactions from a few different listeners. Are you being biased in any way? If you see a few ways you’ll be countered, you can come prepared with information to evidence your perspective. Or, if you realize after doing some forward-thinking that you don’t like the way it could be received, you can now take time to gather more objective information to create a more objective stance. 

Never assume the work is done.

Just like any other vital pulse in an organization, you have to continually make sure your culture stays in a zone of trust. Regularly check in with your team and ask them questions about team dynamics, how do they feel right now and what could be better in the future.

Creating an environment that moves away from an anxiety zone and into psychological safety is the hallmark of a growth-oriented organization. To learn more about building high-performance cultures that are people-centric, download our free eBook.

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Topics: Diversity & Inclusion

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