While nearly $600 billion is reportedly lost yearly due to employee turnover, firms that boast high levels of psychological safety – the belief that one can speak up with ideas, questions, concerns and mistakes without fear of punishment or humiliation – enjoy 27% reduction in turnover, 76% more employee engagement, and 50% greater productivity. The psychological safety that employees in such firms experience leads them to collaborate more with others, learn faster, have greater skills preparedness, and also be more likely to apply these skills on the job.
With the benefits of increased levels of psychological safety well documented, it makes sense to adopt strategies that boost psychological safety within your team, learning from firms and teams that have gotten it right.
Lessons from Google: How team managers can lead the way
In the 2010s, Google’s people operations team on Project Aristotle, a quest to understand the dynamics of high performance teams, found out that individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, bring in more revenue, and be rated as effective twice as often by executives. This pioneering work from Google included several tested strategies for managers to raise psychological safety within their teams.
They recommend firstly demonstrating engagement and understanding to communicate to your team that they are truly being heard without judgment. Simple actions like closing your laptop during meetings, maintaining eye contact while speaking, responding verbally and with your body language to show engagement, asking questions that help you learn more, recapping discussions to ensure alignment, avoiding placing blame and focusing on solutions, are all vital to fostering psychological safety within your team.
They also suggest ways to be more inclusive in inter-personal settings and decision making. One of the most key suggestions, especially as we work with diverse, dispersed teams in hybrid work settings, is to share information about your personal work style or boundaries and encourage your team members to do the same.
When it comes to decision making, take into account all inputs and suggestions before coming to a decision, explain the rationale behind decisions, and acknowledge contributions and inputs, even if you could not fully incorporate them.
Lessons from Microsoft: How teams can rally round to build psychological safety
With the aim of building Microsoft Teams in a manner that enhances the way people work, the organization worked with IDEO to talk to experts and successful teams ranging from fishmongers to search-and-rescue workers to consultants to see what lessons they could glean.
One of the biggest lessons from them was understanding that everyone does not have to agree to be on the same page. However, getting all opinions and ideas together and having a process in place to solve tensions when they arise helps teams to progress without eroding cohesion. By focusing on aligning rather than conforming, teams can support individuality and unique points of view and also settle on the right action required to move ahead as a group.
Their biggest tip for fostering trust and vulnerability was to ensure that everyone helps one another be open, without feeling exposed. The advice is simple: Share what you are comfortable sharing, and not necessarily every detail of your life. Also, acknowledge that these boundaries look different for different people. And most importantly, this does not happen overnight; instead, it takes gradual, frequent communication and deliberate efforts.
Lessons from Great Place to Work®: How leaders across the board can pivot towards psychological safety
As a firm focused on supporting employee-friendly organizations, Great Place to Work® has seen employees report on the effects of psychologically unsafe workplace dynamics. It has also worked with many firms to help them incorporate more positive workplace practices into their organizational culture.
Julian Lute, strategic advisor at Great Place to Work®, points out that sharing what you know and more importantly, what you don’t know, is vital to fostering greater trust and open communication within the team and the organization. Another vital tip is to consistently review your report’s workplace experience and examine whether it is truly fair and just, particularly with respect to pathways to promotion and compensation. He also warns against developing unrealistic expectations pertaining to workloads and availability.
Modeling openness and inclusion while being respectful of every individual’s boundaries (and the team’s own collectively set boundaries) is ultimately the common thread underlying all the advice from these organizations. The result can be a fearless team that tests boundaries – of innovation, experimentation, and curiosity – to deliver high performance at no cost to personal integrity and psychological safety.