One of the things I have learned as a father to my son is the importance of fostering psychological safety in our relationship. It gives him the healthy autonomy to think and behave while growing his confidence as a person, yet able to grow in the trust we had in one another. A few years ago, Google did a study to discover how to build the perfect team. The study involved 180 teams, interviewed hundreds of executives, team leads, and team members. What google discovered as one of the factors most important in influencing team effectiveness is psychological safety in teams.
At the core of psychological safety is about trust: the trust to express, feedback and fail! Often, we might hear leaders telling their teams that it is okay to “fail fast, fail often” but how do the leaders actually reacted when mistakes were made? In the continuity of pandemic (not too sure we are in post-pandemic or midst of it now …), businesses needed to be pivoted, lifestyle changed, working remotely, uncertainty of the future, the embracing of technologies and more …. were and are pushing into this our lives. More mistakes are going to be made and online trust is a new thing! It is even more critical to foster psychological safety now, more than before.
As a leader to your child or your teams, 3 things are needed to foster psychological safety.
Lead with Vulnerability. One of the enemy of psychological safety is the element of fear. I have seen parents who scolded their children when they spilled the liquid or damaged some things while their children were exploring and trying out new things. I am all in favor for disciplinary actions when they misbehaved or simply not listening to instruction. We need to have the wisdom to discern a genuine mistake or a misbehavior situation. In workplace, people are fearful that they would say the wrong thing in a meeting, or being judged for suggesting a bad idea. How about the fear coming from the Imposter Syndrome of being the junior staff, or the culturally minority in the workplace? As leaders, are we the exemplary model to display the courage to show up, to take risks, asking for help, owning our mistakes, learning from failure, and in turn empowering the people around us in doing the same?
Ask what they need to be successful. Everyone’s definition of being successful is different. For my son, being successful is getting acknowledgment and praises for the things he had done. Similarly as a leader in your teams, do you know how they would like to receive their feedback? Do they feel that their achievements are acknowledged? Do their voices matter and being heard? Understanding what works best for each individuals, a great leader would be able to follow through, adapt and integrate into the working culture to provide the best working place for most.
Seek to listen to understand. I have had my fair share of past experiences of feeling like talking to a wall when speaking to boss. I recalled how he was so preoccupied in his thoughts, that I knew when he asked me “How are you?”, he was just being polite and I was not important to him. Imagine how would your son feel when he is telling you how high he had built the LEGO tower, and you answered “great” while the eyes are glued onto the mobile browsing Facebook posts? A simple “How are you doing today?” creates space for you to know what is the energy of your team (on zoom), the stresses or joy of what’s happening outside of work and what are really in the hearts of your people. Beware that this is not a formality, or a technique. It must comes from the place in your heart of concerns. A great leader do not just hear but listen. Listen to understand.
I am sure you know the saying “They don’t care how much you know But how much you care”. If you put psychological safety as one of the important ingredients in your business, your team(s) would be empowered and you should see more energy generating from within! More energy, more passions, more dynamic and you would get a effective team to achieve more together!