The idea of psychological safety is an easy one – it is an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk.
Perception is the key word here. This isn’t something that is dictated from the leadership team. It’s a sense each individual has of the consequences of putting themselves out there.
- Does it pay to speak their mind at a team meeting?
- Should they propose an innovative new idea?
- What happens if they try something new and fail?
- Will leadership listen if they point out relevant data points or potential problems?
Simply put, if people feel as though the organization will be receptive to these things, they will do them. If they think their efforts will be ignored, or worse, that they’ll get in trouble for trying, then they won’t.
Not only has psychological safety been shown to be a critical component to team success, it’s also a vital ingredient for creating an innovative culture.
Encourage diversity of viewpoints
In psychologically safe organizations, there is an inherent tolerance for different viewpoints. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat, and one’s position in the org chart or the boss’s favoritism doesn’t dictate the direction. Instead, questions and discussions are encouraged.
That’s not to say there’s a “rule by committee” mentality that combines the best of all ideas to create a watered-down version of each. That defeats of the point of an innovative organization in the first place! Leadership’s role here is to provide the structure and guidance that supports diverse viewpoints and guides employees to have discussions grounded in nuance, context, and data. The Lean Startup approach is especially relevant here.
Invite ideas from everywhere
Your best ideas are not always going to come from the people who are directly in charge of the area in question. In fact, sometimes they come from the places you may least expect them – those who are new, inexperienced, or have nothing to do with it. Surfacing and evaluating those ideas is especially challenging, since people in those positions may not feel as though their input matters or will be valued. Creating a culture where that type of communication is encouraged and embraced is critical.
Learn from failures
I love this quote from Six Signs of a Broken Corporate Culture:
“In a healthy culture, nobody talks about screwing up or making a mistake, because when you try new things the way people do in healthy organizations, you make mistakes all the time.”
At the core, people can’t feel safe if they fear the consequences of failure. And most of the time, that fear has less to do with the business consequences of the failure than it has to do with the interpersonal consequences – a ding on their performance review, a stern talking to from the boss, the reactions of their co-workers, etc. The external world may not know the difference – it’s the internal environment that losses their minds. If you can create an environment where “failures” are viewed as an opportunity to learn and iterate, rather than play the blame game, you’ll win all around.