Teams with top performance have one thing in common: they have high psychological safety, i.e. the belief that you will not be punished if you make a mistake.
“There’s no team without trust,” says Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google.
He knows the result from a mayor survey made by Google. It showed that high performing teams also have high psychological safety.
Studies show that psychological safety enables risk taking and creativity, and daring going against the stream without being punished for it. These are behaviours that can lead to increased innovation of new revolutionising products and services.
Our evolutionary development explains why psychological safety is both sensitive and important to be able to perform. The brain treats e.g. a reprimand from a manager, a provoking colleague or a questioning coworker as a death threat.
Amygdala, the brain’s alarm bell, starts the ‘fight or flight alarm’. This ‘act first, think later’ brain structure turns off our analytical reasoning when we need it the most.
Even if this ‘fight or flight’ reaction can save us in life threatening situations, it stops us from thinking rationally and smart in the way required for top performance.
To performa at the top in our day and age, we need to activate other parts of the brain; those giving us positive feelings, making us feel strengthened, and enabling us to solve complex problems and cooperating with others.
We get more open minded, resistant, motivated and enduring when we feel safe. Our sense of humor increases, as well as our ability to solve problems, and our creativity.
When the work place feels challenging but not threatening, teams can have maximum performance. The level of oxytocin in our brains increases, which induces confidence and trust creating behaviour.
This is an incredibly important factor for high performing teams.
So how you can increase psychological safety in your team? Here are some concrete tips to try:
1. See conflicts as opportunities to improve your cooperation, instead of threats
Conflicts in and between teams are totally natural. When a conflict arises, ask the question ‘How could we find a mutually wanted result that helps us both?’, instead of fighting to win the argument.
2. Think about different reactions, and how to handle these
To think through in advance how the recipients of your message will react, helps you to keep calm and also to consider your counter actions.
It is easy to feel threatened when your team for instance starts questioning your proposal. But if you have already considered that this can be a natural reaction, and how to handle it, you can keep calm and avoid being seeing as a threat yourself.
- What is my message?
- In what ways can the recipients react to this?
- How should I meet the different reactions that can come up?
3. Be curious instead of accusing
If your team members feel that you will accuse them for something, they are likely to feel threatened. Use a learning way of thinking, instead of an accusing.
Talk about the problematic behaviour or result that you are unhappy with as an observation, and use a factual, neutral language. For example:
– Talk about facts: ‘During the past three weeks, you have not participated in our project meetings.’
– Be curious: ‘Surely there are several reasons to why that is, can we can talk a little bit about these?’
– Ask for a solution. The person who the problem involves might often have a good solution themselves: ‘What do you think should be done?’ and ‘How can I support you so that we can make it work again?’.
4. Ask for feedback
To ask for feedback on how you communicate is something that builds confidence and helps you improve. Ask questions like:
- How did you feel when you heard what I communicated?
- What do you think that I communicated in a good way, and what can I improve?
5. Measure psychological safety
Many organisations frequently measure psychological safety. Google for instance ask: ‘How confident are you that you won’t receive retaliation or criticism if you admit an error or make a mistake?’
If you start working with psychological safety in your team you can expect increased employee engagement, increased wellbeing, increased creativity, and at the end of the day a team who feel and perform better.