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how to create psychological safety in teams podcast leadership coach anne koopmann

010. How to Create Psychological Safety in Teams

Do you feel safe to speak up in meetings, even if your opinion or idea might be going against the view of your manager? This is where the essence of psychological safety comes into play.
If the answer is no, your workplace or team may be lacking when it comes to creating psychological safety.

Today, we’re diving into what this means and why it’s important to build a more psychologically safe environment for your team.

In this episode, I talk about:

  • What psychological safety means
  • Why psychological safety is important
  • What the benefits of psychological safety in your team are
  • Strategies you can implement to build a more psychologically safe environment for your team

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Hi, and welcome back to the Lead Like YOU! Podcast. This is episode 10 already. And that means that this is the last episode for this year and also for the first season of the Lead Like YOU! Podcast. Thank you all so much for tuning in and for supporting this project of mine. I’m so excited for everyone who tunes in every week, and I’m really grateful for you and for your feedback. I will be back at the end of January with more courageous conversations. And also a few amazing guests on this podcast.

[00:01:51]Wow, so it’s almost the end of the year and what a year it’s been, so many ups and downs and definitely lots of challenges. And I think for most of us this year turned out completely different to what we had imagined.

[00:02:05]A lot of plans had to be canceled changed. For me personally, we weren’t able to travel to Germany for my sister’s wedding. My parents weren’t able to visit us over here in Australia. So we definitely have felt quite homesick this year. But on the other hand, I always think that it’s really important that we also focus on the positives. That we don’t just think that this was a waste of a year or waste of time.

[00:02:30] So I invite you to take a moment over the next few weeks to just sit down and write down all the things that brought you joy and happiness, even the small moments. And also the things that you are proud of. And you can definitely be proud of getting through lockdown, making it through this year, managing the challenges between working from home and having your kids at home, for example, or even, living all by yourself throughout a lockdown. What is something that you feel really proud of? What were the joyful moments?

[00:03:02] For me? It’s definitely been that I feel like I’ve connected even closer with my friends and family overseas. There was a time in March and April, where we all went through lockdown simultaneously over in Europe and here in Australia.

[00:03:14] And we had more zoom conversations with all the friends and my family and more regular catch-ups. And that for me was really, really powerful.

[00:03:23]I also had beautiful celebrations within my family. Beautiful news. And I hit some exciting milestones for my business.

[00:03:31] Take a moment to think about what is something positive that you want to celebrate for this year.

[00:03:36]In today’s episode, we will be talking about how we can build psychological safety in our teams. I will talk a little bit about what psychological safety means, and I will also share with you why it’s so important, what are the benefits and what strategies can you implement to build a more psychologically safe environment for your team.

[00:03:54]Let me ask you a question. Do you feel safe to speak up in meetings, even if you’re opinion or idea is maybe going against the view of your manager? A lot of my clients say that they don’t, a lot of my clients say that they often hold back because they fear the consequences. And they feel worried about speaking up against their manager or against other more powerful people in the team, And this is where the essence of psychological safety comes into play.

[00:04:25] Amy Edmondson is a scientist for organizational behavior, and she has defined psychological safety as an environment in which team members feel safe to make mistakes, but also to voice their opinions. They feel safe to take risks.

[00:04:42]It’s the belief that no one will be punished for making mistakes or for trying something new.

[00:04:47]The essence of it really is trust in a team. The team members feel like they know each other, they feel safe. They listen. It’s an environment of mutual respect, equality, and also support for each other, and everybody’s ideas.

[00:05:03]Some people describe it as an non-judgemental environment as well. So they feel like they are seen and accepted for their differences and for their uniqueness.

[00:05:12]In her book, “The fearless organization”. Amy Edmondson says that psychological safety is not a “nice to have”. It is actually essential, especially if we are working for an organization or a business, or even if we have our own business where we want to create creativity and innovation, where we rely on people to share their thoughts, share their ideas and share their knowledge. Where we can all learn from each other, where we can bounce off ideas from each other, where we can actually grow by sharing our thoughts and having fruitful discussion.

[00:05:45]If we don’t feel safe in our team environment, it will lead us to feeling fear. And that will lead us to having an, a reaction in our brain. So our fight or flight mode can actually be activated. And that will mean that our rational brain is actually going to be shut off and our body just gets ready to either fight or flight. Often that can look like that we don’t speak up. So we’re withdrawing ourselves from the conversations. We’re not speaking up, we’re not taking risks. We’re going to play it safe. If we are scared of speaking up, if we don’t feel like we’re respected in our team, we are not going to share our ideas.

[00:06:26] But even moreso we’re not going to own our mistakes. So people will hide their mistakes. They will try to cover it up because their fear the consequences. And you can just think about that: if we cover up mistakes, the consequences can be really detrimental for a business.

[00:06:44] I was working in the Rail Manufacturing industry for almost 10 years. And you can imagine when you actually produce trains and trams, that is so important that safety standards are achieved.

[00:06:56]There’s no tolerance for mistakes once the product hits the customer and hits the network. So it was really important that people felt safe to say that they didn’t know how to do a certain step, that they made a mistake, that they were unsure. But if people were afraid of consequences, they would have not spoken up.

[00:07:15] So it’s really important as you can imagine that in businesses that we talk about mistakes as early as possible, so we can fix them when they appear, rather than later down the line, or sometimes maybe don’t even catch them at all until it hits our client.

[00:07:29]when the environment isn’t psychologically safe, it can also mean that people don’t collaborate, that everybody does their own thing each to their own. They don’t share ideas because they’re worried about the others will run with their ideas or they won’t get credit for their ideas.

[00:07:42] And everybody’s going to start to work in silos and just do the best for themselves because their fear of the consequences

[00:07:49]So you can just imagine that if you create an environment that is psychologically safe and you have people that share their mistakes, learn from their failures or share their ideas, enjoy collaborating, enjoy giving each other feedback and engage in healthy conflict that these organizations will just thrive, that they will be more productive.

[00:08:08] They will have better quality outcomes because they catch their errors early on and they learn from their mistakes and then make it even better.

[00:08:15]Diversity is celebrated. You have higher engagement and higher retention and people truly enjoy being part of this team and being part of the journey. They will identify themselves with the purpose of the team and the organization.

[00:08:27]The business will grow because you have more creativity, more innovation and better performance.

[00:08:32]I’ve seen all kinds of different environments in my career. I’ve seen teams where the leader was not creating a safe environment at all, where you were punished and yelled at for making mistakes, where you were not really listened to, where when errors happened. And they were brought up in a meeting, the leader would just shout at the whole team and yell out that they’re just useless. And it’s such a disappointment.

[00:08:55]And I also got to work with amazing managers that always had an open door. They were always open to really hear what everybody had to say. He coached people through their errors and mistakes. He helped them find solutions. He made everyone feel valid.

[00:09:09] He might, every idea feel valid. And most importantly, he took the time to explain why he made certain decisions, why he went down a certain path. So if your idea wasn’t chosen, he made sure that you knew why. So at least you felt validated, at least you felt heard and listened to, at least you knew that he appreciated your input, but there were certain reasons why he had to make a different decision.

[00:09:33]And there was also a difference of how he reacted, when I walked up to him to say that I made a mistake or that I’m unsure what to do. Instead of judging me instead of panicking, instead of getting frustrated, he started to just have a conversation with me and together we worked it out and we always found a solution. So that was really powerful. He earned the trust and in response, his team went with him through the challenges, through the ups and downs. They supported him in his decisions. They always backed him up. They were always there ready to jump on when he wanted to take a move.

[00:10:06] So it can be really powerful, those differences in the teams. And I’ve seen both and I definitely can attest that a psychologically safe environment can make all the difference.

[00:10:16]If you want to assess and get a feeling for whether the team that you’re in or the team that you are managing is actually set up in a safe environment, start to reflect on, do people feel safe to speak up? Sometimes there’s this unspoken rules in teams that if you speak up and you have an opinion that differs from the manager’s opinion, that you better don’t even speak up or that you should only voice your opinion if you have the data to back it up. And that can lead to people, overthinking their ideas, questioning themselves self-doubting and they’re not speaking up at all.

[00:10:47] Check-in if in your team, people feel safe for making mistakes. Are they being judged? Are they’re being punished for it?

[00:10:55] Are there consequences, if people make mistakes. Have a look. Does your team collaborate. Is everyone part of the team? Do they talk to each other, do they share ideas? Do they support and celebrate each other. Do they ask each other for help?

[00:11:09]Do they bring up problems and problem solve it together? Do they celebrate the uniqueness? Do they understand the unique strengths of every team member?

[00:11:17] Start to reflect on these questions or even have a conversation with your team members to start to get a feeling for how safe do they actually feel?

[00:11:25]When we want to create a psychologically safe environment, we want to shift the way leaders are perceived and leaders play their role.

[00:11:34] Amy Edmondson describes it as a shift from a leader who gives clear orders, who says the way it should be done to a leader who gives direction and supports people to bring their own input.

[00:11:46]And it’s about creating a team and moving away from team members that just follow orders and they have to do what they’ve been told to moving to team members that are valued for their creative thinking, for their knowledge and for thire insights. Who are seen as contributors on an equal level.

[00:12:05]So how can we create a psychologically safe environment. Amy Edmondson gives a framework. It’s like a leader’s toolkit for psychological safety, and I really like it. So I want to share it with you and provide you with my own thoughts around it.

[00:12:18] The framework has three steps. It’s about setting the stage. So setting the expectations. It’s about inviting participation and collaboration. And it’s about your response. So making sure we always respond productively. Let’s walk through these one by one.

[00:12:34]When we want to set the stage with our teams, it’s really important that we start by setting clear expectations. What are the expected outcomes? What is the level of quality that we need to achieve?

[00:12:44] What are your expectations around failure and redefine failure for your team? Describe share stories of when you made a mistake and what you’ve learned from it.

[00:12:54] Share the level of uncertainty that this project has and share that you expect them to make mistakes, that you will never get it right in the first time. That mistakes are always going to happen in that part of getting to an amazing solution.

[00:13:09]You can share how you will work on them when they make mistakes, how you will help them solve the problem.

[00:13:14]Set your expectations about collaboration. Make it clear from the start that you want the team to share ideas and work together and support each other along the way.

[00:13:25] Set clear rules around the values of your team and your organization. Make clear what behavior is tolerated and what’s not tolerated.

[00:13:34]And then paint a picture of the shared purpose. What is at stake here? What are they part of? What’s the higher purpose? What’s the big why that’s behind this project? Create excitement around the purpose so they’re all buying into this purpose.

[00:13:49]And then start invite participation in the second step. Here you really want to create the confidence that everybody’s voice is valued. You can start by sharing your own moments of uncertainty, your moments of doubt or sharing when you don’t know the answers.

[00:14:05]Create an environment where everybody’s ready to learn and stay curious about other people’s ideas and thoughts along the process.

[00:14:13]Ask a lot of questions. Powerful questions are so important. If we want to get people to think and get creative. There’s a lot of research around powerful questions and you can Google that because it goes quite deep of what a powerful question is. But in short, it’s a question that’s, open-ended, it’s a question that gets them to think and sometimes creates a bit of tension, so that it puts them on the spot. Just a tiny little bit. To get them thinking and get them into their creative mode.

[00:14:40] Make sure that you listen and that they know that you’re truly listening. When was the last time you took time to just listen and ask how they’re going, or what their ideas were? Help them to go a bit deeper in their thinking process.

[00:14:52]Think about, have you created forums and structures that allows for collaboration? What are the meetings that you’re running? How are they managed? Are there standing up meetings, sitting down meetings? What’s the environment for that meeting structure? Are you fostering creativity?

[00:15:06] Are you in a creative space? Are you sometimes removing the team from the office to get them to think outside of the box and get some more inspiration?

[00:15:14]Are you ensuring that everybody can take a turn, that everybody is listened to and heard? Are you making sure everyone is really involved?

[00:15:21]And then also look at how comfortable are you with managing conflict, because conflict is so important to get the best idea. If we manage conflict effectively, it’s a safe conflict that still gets us to draw out the best ideas and the best solutions, and also raise concerns, frustration, and just eliminate that.

[00:15:39] So conflict is important. Don’t shy away from it. But if you need some help, invest in some learning about managing effective conflict.

[00:15:47]Make sure that you always invite feedback. Ask them for feedback. Provide forums where they can provide each other feedback, make it the norm that we can just give feedback. We’re giving feedback because we want others to improve. Always provide feedback based on the strengths of an individual, focus on the positive and how they can do more of that. If they’re facing problems, if they’re made a mistake, help them to figure out how they can use their strengths to improve or find a new solution.

[00:16:12]And then start to think a bit about how are you responding to your team members? How are you making this a productive process and environment?

[00:16:20] So first of all, are you available? Are you visible for them? Do they know when they can talk to you? Do you have an open door policy? Can they come and speak to you? And is it always safe to come to your office?

[00:16:31] Are you appreciating their ideas? Are you giving them positive feedback? Do you say thank you. Are you acknowledging their hard work?

[00:16:38]When they made mistakes, how are you reacting when they come to you? Do you provide a really safe space and make it a positive experience when they want to highlight problems? How do you usually react?

[00:16:48]I remember a time when I was the quality manager. And I was quite new in the role, quite new in the quality function. So I didn’t have much experience in the function itself.

[00:16:58] So I was constantly on the edge because I didn’t quite have all the answers and I felt a little bit insecure about it. And there were moments when people came to me with problems or with mistakes that they made. And in that moment, I could feel myself panicking inside. So getting really emotional because I thought, “Oh my God, what are we going to do? This is going to be really bad. This is going to have horrible consequences. What are we going to do?”

[00:17:21] And then, because I got really flustered and upset about it, I was not necessarily able to put my team members at ease. So there were moments where I did not react in a way that was positive or productive because I let my fear drive me. And then over time I learned to manage my emotion with emotion intelligence, and to help myself to regulate it and regulate my reactions. So even then, if there were mistakes and problems that came up, I knew that we would figure it out somehow. And I managed to keep my own anxiety down, to be there and provide a space and a positive space for my team members. And I coached them through. So together we found a solution. I made sure they knew they’re not alone. And together we worked it out. But I realized that that took a bit of time for me.

[00:18:08] So think about it. How do you react when people come to you with problems or mistakes?

[00:18:13]And lastly, think about how are you enforcing the rules around behaviors and values in your team? Because that’s really important that you stand up for that and that you show the consequences. If somebody is talking about, leave out someone, if somebody is picking a fight, If somebody is not behaving appropriately, if someone is harassing someone, bullying someone it’s really important that you speak up straight away and that you solve that issue when it starts.

[00:18:39] Because if you turn away, if you close your eyes to it and you don’t do anything about it and you just hope it will go away by itself, it will not make your team members feel safe. And they will start to think that all the talk around behavior rules and values for the team was just talk and that you are actually not there to protect them.

[00:18:57]There’s a lot of stories that I’ve heard from clients that went to the manager or went to HR to complain about being bullied or harassed and nothing was being done. And then you start to really question the integrity of a company and really, how are they living by their values if they don’t really do what they say they’ll do.

[00:19:18] Because yes, sticking up to bullying, sticking up to rules like that, and really, truly living your values as a leader and as an organization can be difficult. And it can mean that you often have to have difficult conversations and have to be courageous, to deal with problems as they come. If you don’t do that, then you’re not creating a safe environment.

[00:19:38] So start to reflect on, are your actions in alignment with your values and the values of your organization and how are you talking about this and how are you making sure that you’re consequent in your actions when you observe something that is not tolerated?

[00:19:52]So these were the three tips that are part of Amy Edmondson’s toolkit. And to close it off, I just want to say that don’t feel overwhelmed by these different strategies. It can feel quite a lot when you start, but I think it’s really important that you become clear about your values first and that you concentrate on creating relationships and trust.

[00:20:12] That you’re making sure that you talk openly about yourself, that you share your mistakes, that you lead by example. Share openly, be vulnerable and create trust, invest in the trust in the team.

[00:20:23] That’s a really, really good start. And then from there you will see that it will get much easier.

[00:20:29] If you inherited a team and the team is not quite sticking together and the trust is a bit broken, spent time first, before focusing on results and productivity and all these things, spend time to get to know the team members and listen really, truly listen to what’s going on.

[00:20:45]Don’t make rushed decisions. Take time to get to know them, start to see how you can build those relationships. Start to see what conflicts are there between team members. Often it’s just misunderstandings. And again, by leading by example, you can slowly, slowly bring the team closer together.

[00:21:01]Do something positive for the team. Do a strength assessment. That can often help the team members to understand each other better and why their quirks are actually strengths and how they can all bring and contribute something to the team and the teamwork.

[00:21:13] It can do wonders.

[00:21:14] So just take a bit of time. Don’t push yourself too much, but just start by the little steps and ask yourself every day: am I leading in alignment with my values and what else can I do to strengthen the relationships?

[00:21:26]I hope these tips were helpful for you. I think it’s a fascinating topic and it’s such an important thing that leaders often are not taught when they start on their leadership journey.

[00:21:36]if you liked this episode, I would be so grateful if you could leave a review and also share with me and message me on Instagram or LinkedIn with your biggest takeaway or thoughts or any other questions you might have that might come up for you. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

[00:21:52] For now, I wish you a great end to the year. Enjoy the holiday celebrations with your family and friends, and remember to reflect on the positive things that happened this year.

[00:22:03] Can’t wait to talk to you in 2021