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Psychological safety: Three thinking points for HRDs

April 11, 2022

Creating psychologically safe teams is a no-brainer, but it isn’t as simple as rolling out a ‘Psychological safety’ initiative for leaders, ticking the box and thinking job done. We know it can have real organisational impact – the link between high performing teams and psychological safety has been made. But it takes place at a team level and it’s fluid. Teams can have it, lose it but they can regain it again – with the right focus and support.

What does this mean for HR? How can HR help leaders build psychological safety across the organisation and what role can they play in bringing it to life themselves?

It’s a complex subject but we’ve tried to simplify it and have come up with three points for you to reflect on. These are the thoughts that are top of our minds when someone says the words psychological safety to us right now.

We’d love to hear which if they resonate with you. They might spark an idea or help you to work out where to focus effort. Drop us a note and let us know.

 

  1. What is psychological safety? (And what isn’t it?)

There’s often a myth that it’s about people being kind, and always agreeing with each other. While kindness is never not a good thing, it isn’t psychological safety. Psychological safety is about creating an environment where people feel safe to speak up, challenge each other, share knowledge, take risks and make mistakes.

But these aren’t behaviours that come naturally to us. Speaking up can feel like we’re taking a huge personal risk. We feel uncomfortable and vulnerable which is why leadership behaviours are so important. Because while everyone in the team plays a part in creating a psychologically safe environment, it starts with the leader.

Reflection: Do your leaders and HR colleagues understand what psychological safety is, and isn’t, and recognise the role they play in bringing it to life?

 

  1. Psychological safety: it takes a new style of leadership

Creating a culture where it’s safe to have straight-talking conversation and healthy conflict calls for a different style of leadership. We’re talking about being curious, showing vulnerability, being ok with not having all the answers or being the expert. Understanding that failure is a part of the learning process.

If leaders are expected to role-model these behaviours, who’s making it safe for them? Are the teams they’re in psychologically safe and is HR role-modelling these behaviours too?

Reflection: How can HR support leaders in developing these behaviours and identify teams that need support?

 

  1. Is hybrid working affecting psychological safety?

Many organisations and leaders are grappling with the switch from remote to hybrid working. As the line between work and home blurred over the past two years, many employees are taking this opportunity to create a way of working that is as much about their personal circumstances as their work requirements.

If your organisation is going to navigate its way through this latest round of change successfully it will need high levels of psychological safety. But be aware, it’s also a time when psychological safety can take a hit. We said at the top of the article that teams can lose psychological safety – it takes huge effort to keep levels high when things are straightforward, but when foundations are shaky, it needs even more focus, but believe us, high levels of psychological safety will help you come through the other side.

Reflection: How can HR help leaders and their teams keep a psychologically safe environment as they navigate these new ways of working?

 

Final thoughts

Psychological safety is complex and challenging. It’s a subject we could talk about for hours, but for now, we’re focusing on these three crucial areas.

  • Be clear on what psychological safety is, and isn’t: it isn’t about being nice
  • It needs a new style of leadership, leaders need your support
  • Your teams need psychological safety even more they navigate their way through hybrid and other new ways of working

Contact us to talk about your organisation’s culture, teams and leaders.

 

Resources

LIW resources, blogs, research and white papers

Squadify We not Me Psychological Safety Podcast with Dr Jessica Tonissen

Amy Edmondson, Ted Talks

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