Do You Have Enough Psychological Team Safety?
Too many leaders underestimate the importance of Psychological Team Safety when trying to define new strategies, execute strategic plans, or implement change management initiatives. Before they can move forward effectively as a team, high performing leadership teams understand the need to cultivate a safe, healthy team environment with the mindsets and behaviors required to create enough buy-in for and commitment to improvement, new plans, or change.
Sadly, recent McKinsey research uncovered that only 43% of respondents report a positive climate within their teams. If team members are afraid to speak up, resist sharing their concerns, or don’t feel comfortable asking challenging questions, teams will not perform at their peak.
It is important to note, however, that psychological safety at work doesn’t require everyone to be “nice” to each other or to unconditionally support everyone all the time. It means that teams embrace constructive debate without the fear of rejection, punishment, or embarrassment — especially when the stakes are high.
In her book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, Amy C. Edmondson defines Psychological Team Safety as a team environment where people have low interpersonal fear and high confidence that:
Why is Psychological Team Safety at Work Important?
When teams — especially leadership teams — are afraid to speak their mind, challenge ideas, or contribute authentically to important discussions, they struggle to have the frank conversations required to challenge the status quo, make tough decisions, innovate, build leadership trust, and lead with agility.
A lack of psychological team safety causes an increase in back-channeling, gossip, workplace politics, and silo-based thinking — all leadership team warning signs of not enough psychological safety on the team.
What this Means for Leadership Teams
Psychological safety has a direct impact whether the leadership team can truly get strategically aligned on what matters most before, during, and after strategy retreats to collectively move the business and the people forward in a way that makes sense.
If the entire leadership team does not have the trust required to have constructive and thoughtful debate without the fear of reprisal, they will not be able to create the level of commitment and the culture of accountability required to see plans through to fruition.
When we assess organizational culture, we find that high performing leadership teams model openness and encourage healthy debate with each other and their teams. High performing team leaders consistently demonstrate supportive, inclusive, and consultative behaviors.
Otherwise, you create a culture of avoidance. And that does not work. Not talking about things does not solve problems or create deeper levels of trust, connection, or performance. It is often the conversations and discussions that teams are NOT having that cause the greatest problems.
20 Questions to Measure the Psychological Safety of Your Team
Before you bring a leadership team together to create strategic clarity or make high stakes decisions, consider how the team stacks up against the questions below — the first seven are from Amy’s work and focus on team safety. If you do not get consistently “safe” answers, your leadership team needs to work on being more open to debate and constructive dissent before moving forward. The next thirteen focus on overall team functioning and health.
The Bottom Line
In most leadership teams, the vast majority of work is not performed by individuals or within independent silos. High performance requires high levels of interdependence, knowledge sharing, collaboration, and a willingness to speak candidly. Does your leadership team have enough psychological health to thrive?
To learn more about high performance leadership, download How Leaders Break Down Silos and Resolve Cross-Unit Conflicts
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