“Bringing the Culture of Psychological Safety to Life”This is the third entry in a series of blogs about the leadership concept of psychological safety.

“Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” — Lou Gerstner

I have been so fascinated by the concept of culture that I wrote a book about it, but since then I’ve learned the best ones have some singular characteristics – one of the most important ones being the environment of psychological safety.[1]  The dominant theme of this type of “Level Five” culture (to use our term for excellence) is belonging: being “all in.” In a culture of psychological safety, trust is vital -- and it takes effort to be maintained.

But how do you bring a culture of psychological safety to life?   One author, Laura Delizonna, who has studied the most successful cultures, provides these 6 steps towards mitigating conflict and building psychological safety in high performing teams:

  1. Approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. Ask the question, “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?
  2. Speak human to human. Underlying every ‘who-did-what’ confrontation/finger-pointing are universal needs such as respect, competence, social status, and autonomy. Recognizing these deeper needs naturally elicits trust and promotes positive language and behaviors.
  3. Anticipate reactions and plan countermoves. Skillfully confront difficult conversations head-on by preparing for likely reactions.
  4. Replace blame with curiosity. If team members sense that you’re trying to blame them for something, you become their ‘saber-toothed tiger’ — and a lack of psychological safety. And, if you believe you already know what the other person is thinking, then you’re not ready to have a conversation. Instead, adopt a learning mindset, knowing you don’t have all the facts.
  5. Ask for feedback on delivery. Asking for feedback on how you delivered your message disarms your opponent, illuminates blind spots in communication skills, and models fallibility, which increases trust in leaders.
  6. Measure psychological safety. For example, some teams at Google include survey questions such as, “How confident are you that you won’t receive retaliation or criticism if you admit an error or make a mistake?[2]

Whether you’re growing individual leaders or high-performing teams, the same principles apply.  People need to feel safe in their professional environment. Leadership style is an important indicator of how much we believe safety is a fundamental principle in our culture. If you act like your team matters, they will feel like they matter.

Being positive, focusing on learning, and employing empathetic listening skills are characteristics of the best leaders who are stewards of the best cultures.

Today is the first day of the rest of you and your team’s journey – enjoy it!

[1] The recent widespread awareness of the concept of psychological safety is largely credited to Dr. Amy Edmonson, though variations on the idea date back to at least the 1960s.

[2]High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It,” by Laura Delizonna in The Harvard Business Review, August 24, 2017.

You can review our past entries in this series on psychological safety.

If you feel stuck, or have additional questions, please feel free to reach out to us via our contact page.

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