Psychological Safety and Team Resilience

People worry about getting hurt at work.

They can get hurt in so many ways. In the USA, 4,547 people died at work during 2010. There are millions of injuries occurring at work. But physical injury is only part of employees’ concerns.

People worry about emotional injury as well. They fear that if they behave at all out of the ordinary, others may mock them. They are concerned that others may take advantage of a momentary lapse to damage their reputations.

The basic point is that people hate being embarrassed. Without the respect of colleagues, people are at a great disadvantage. More than that, being put down by others feels awful. It’s a feeling anyone wants to avoid.

This vulnerability means that an important job for leaders is providing a sense of psychological safety. It means providing assurance to members of the team that they can count on support from the group when they take risks. They can go out on a limb without being worried that someone in the group will saw it off. That sense of safety connects people more closely to the team. It also increases the odds that each person will give their best efforts to the group. Very importantly for a high performing team, a sense of psychological safety increases the chances that people will make the effort and take the risks necessary to learn. That quality is essential in a highly competitive world driven by innovation. It results in a team resilience to endure great demands and still succeed.

Three things leaders can do to give a sense of psychological safety.

  1. Insist on civility in team interactions. The words and actions that people use in their day-to-day conversations as well as in team meetings define a culture of respect.
  2. Be part of the conversation. A leader can only insist upon a culture of respect when the leader is participating in the team’s interactions. You’ve got to be there.
  3. Encourage disagreement. Conduct meetings and conversations such that team members know that they can disagree with the boss.

A resilient team is one that can create a safe, secure base. People are more confident of taking risks and exploring new territory when they know they have a real home.

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