Improving teamwork through psychological safety
What is psychological safety and why is it important for teamwork?
A lack of this can have serious consequences for teamwork: In a team where team members do not feel encouraged to express their opinions freely, fewer creative ideas are developed, and fewer solutions are found. Ideas or suggestions may be withheld for fear of criticism or rejection, which can lead to important issues not being addressed. For example, risks may not be identified because the person who recognizes the risk does not want to be seen as a pessimist. This can lead to a group dynamic where everyone moves in the same direction without considering other perspectives. If a person feels that they cannot or are not allowed to express their opinion freely, they will not feel heard or valued - motivation and commitment suffer and, of course, this is a burden on the person, which can lead to stress and frustration.
How can psychological safety be promoted?
- Improve your own communication: This includes not only the spoken word, but also facial expressions and gestures. Good communication requires avoiding negative expressions such as insults, sarcastic remarks and degrading behaviour. Instead, active listening and a respectful conversation culture should be cultivated. Awareness should be developed of how what you say may be received by the other person and whether you really mean to convey something in that way, whether verbally or non-verbally.
- Encourage open communication: Leaders should create a culture of open communication where team members are encouraged to express their opinions and thoughts freely. They should lead by example. By sharing their own thoughts and opinions and accepting feedback, they promote a culture of openness and create an atmosphere of trust. It can be helpful to establish a code of conduct with the team that emphasises the commitment to open communication and mutual respect and serves as a guide for all team members. In particular, this includes responding to opinions and thoughts appropriately, i.e. with empathy and respect, which leads to the next point.
- Encourage empathy and respect: Leaders should ensure that all team members are respected and valued, regardless of their opinions or perspectives. Empathy and compassion help team members feel safe, supported and confident to share their opinions and ideas. This is because when people respond positively, even if they do not share the opinion or idea, they still have the confidence to continue expressing it. Therefore, negative verbal or non-verbal responses should be avoided, even if the opinion or idea is later rejected. However, inclusion in the minutes also shows respect. Therefore, a culture of respect and appreciation for all team members should be promoted. Sharing stories and perspectives and emphasising the importance of diversity and inclusion can create a space where differences are seen as strengths and all team members feel comfortable.
- Hold regular feedback sessions: A culture of open communication and feedback can be established through regular feedback sessions. This should include equal opportunities for all team members to give constructive feedback and receive positive recognition. These can help team members feel comfortable and ensure that every idea is taken seriously. Encourage everyone to share their ideas and feedback openly and make it clear that they are valued. After all, feedback is the only way to grow and improve, as long as it is constructive.
- Create an error culture: Leaders should encourage their teams to try new ideas and find innovative solutions by making them feel that it is acceptable to make mistakes. In this way, a culture of continuous improvement can emerge, fuelled by feedback and the search for ways to improve. To create a culture of accepting mistakes, leaders should actively model that mistakes are seen as opportunities for improvement. Regular reflection and shared error analysis can help. Team members should be encouraged to discuss mistakes openly in order to learn from them and find solutions together.
- Provide training and education: Targeted training and education can be provided to strengthen psychological safety in teams. This could include training to improve communication and cooperation, conflict management training or workshops to improve team dynamics. By learning conflict management techniques, conflicts in the team can be resolved effectively. This is because, as mentioned above, constructive expression is particularly important when dealing with conflict. In this way you stay on the facutal level. To promote psychological safety in the team, targeted training and education should be available to all team members and sufficient time should be allocated for it.
- Build strong team dynamics: Leaders can promote the development of strong team dynamics through team-building activities such as joint leisure activities or team workshops. This will enable team members to build better relationships and work together more effectively. Regular meetings and reflection processes help to strengthen the team's sense of togetherness. The team gets to know each other better, learns how to deal with each other and can therefore prevent conflicts.
- Define clear roles and responsibilities: To minimise misunderstandings and conflicts in the team, clear roles and responsibilities should be defined. This will ensure that all team members know exactly what is expected of them and can carry out their tasks effectively. In addition, clear goals and priorities can be set to focus the team on a common vision and increase motivation. To ensure effective teamwork, it is also important to establish clear communication channels. This way, team members can always be reached during working hours and problems can be solved quickly. Not only are problems solved, but everyone is kept up to date and knows what to do next.
Challenges in promoting psychological safety
One of the biggest challenges is that fostering is an ongoing process that takes time and effort. It cannot simply be achieved through a one-off training session or seminar. Instead, it requires a constant focus on developing an open, respectful and supportive culture. Promoting psychological safety requires a commitment from leaders and managers to invest time and resources in the process. Simply introducing new policies is not enough; ongoing support is needed to ensure success.
However, all the measures and management commitment will be in vain if the team does not accept the changes involved. Implementing measures may mean that some team members feel uncomfortable or have to leave their comfort zone. It is therefore important that changes are carefully planned and introduced to the team to ensure that they are accepted and supported by all team members. Once the team understands that these measures are beneficial, they will be more open, and more measures can be introduced. This is because psychological safety allows opinions to be expressed freely without fear of repercussions. However, this attitude has to be embedded in the minds of the team members. In some cultures, it may be inappropriate to express opinions openly, e.g. to avoid losing face. Of course, this has to be taken into account when implementing the measures. It is therefore important for leaders and project managers to be sensitive and use different approaches to ensure that all team members are involved and supported, which in turn is enabled by the status quo identified earlier.