When leaders think about motivating their team, safety isn’t something that usually tops the list of considerations, yet it plays a crucial role.
People want to work in an environment where they feel safe both physically and mentally, which means a thriving and productive workplace is also psychologically safe.
International studies reveal the increase in mental health issues, with experts warning the ramifications will extend far into the future. The impact has financial consequences, with the World Health Organization estimating that depression and anxiety cost the global economy over $1 trillion in lost productivity.
After two years of uncertainty and continuing rapid change, the criticality of having practices to support and promote a mentally healthy workplace is elevated.
Defining psychological safety
In 2012, Google started research — code-named Project Aristotle — to determine what made the best teams. Initially, they thought it would be about the smarts of the people in the group, but in time they realised it had far more to do with how the group connected and engaged.
A year into the five-year study, they discovered that explicit group norms were fundamental. The next step was to figure out what team norms mattered the most. Further investigation concluded that the priority element was psychological safety, a term coined by Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review in 2019, she said, “Psychological safety isn’t about being nice. It’s about giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes, and learning from each other”. It is knowing your team won’t embarrass, reject or punish you, and where the team trusts and respects each other so people can come to work and be their authentic selves.
Caring comes first
Creating this environment starts with leaders being genuinely concerned about the welfare of those around them. They do this by considering the needs of others and taking accountability for the impact of their actions.
Build the framework
Next, frame the work and ensure all team members are on the same page. This process includes establishing common goals, agreeing on how you will work together, clarifying expectations, and discussing how you deal with uncertainty and setbacks.
To create an environment with high participation, active dialogue and a willingness to work through challenging issues, the leader will want to be curious and have a growth mindset. A crucial part of this is establishing mechanisms where the team can easily share ideas and learnings, robustly debate concepts, and engage in well-facilitated conversations.
Set the standard
Leaders need to set the standard, lead by example and treat team members fairly and consistently. This includes praising team members for their efforts, while focusing on learning and growth when things don’t go to plan. When leaders behave inconsistently, and their performance standards are unreliable, this breeds distrust and poor outcomes.
Support healthy practices
It helps if you, as the leader, role model self-care behaviours. Be open with your team about your pressure points and what you do to manage stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle. As part of this, encourage your team members to take care of their physical and mental health, including taking regular breaks during the day.
Find out what brings out their best and how the team wants to connect and engage with each other. Ask each team member what they need from you to enable them to be their best each day at work.
If you want progress, consider the impact of safety – in all its manifestations – on how your team connects and works together.
Michelle Gibbings CMgr FIML is a workplace expert and the award-winning author of three books. Her latest book is ‘Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one’. www.michellegibbings.com.