Psychological safety in the workplace

Culture and people
Psychological safety in the workplace
Every Friday, Entersekt’s digital marketing team religiously meets up to share three revelations: What are we grateful for, what did we learn this week, and what are we celebrating? It’s our way of connecting as a team, checking in with each other, and reflecting on the week’s activities.

But there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Creating connections in a virtual world

In a business world now dominated by virtual meetings, we have realized how important it is for our team to come together in a more casual setting. Yes, we share golden nuggets and key learnings from both triumphs and challenges from the working week. But it’s also our time for letting each other know when things happen in our personal lives.

We regularly gush about special events, feeling supported by our partners when we’re feeling rough, or experiencing precious moments with our kids and pets. One of our team members even throws in a ‘Dad joke’ to keep it light and real.

The response from our celebration question speaks volumes, though. At least one person always raises how supported they feel by their team members, how they feel heard, and how safe they feel to say just about anything. We have created a safe space where we know we can share anything, and it won’t be frowned upon.

The psychological impact of feeling safe at work

Feeling safe to say whatever is on our minds is the key ingredient that makes our Friday ritual work. Organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson from Harvard defines psychological safety as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking”.  

In a famous study amongst 180 Google teams, researchers looked at 250 variables that influenced the key performance of various teams. It turned out that psychological safety was the number one predictor of high performance in teams. The statement that came out on top was, “I feel safe expressing divergent opinions to the team”.

Does this mean that for teams to perform, we always need to feel safe to express our opinions and expert views?

Letting our guard rails down

As part of a recent team-building event, we held our Friday ritual face to face for the first time. Table Mountain was the backdrop for a sunset picnic on a Cape Town wine farm. We reminisced about a few achievements (such as nearing the new website launch!), but also about the many challenges we experienced along the way. We kept the conversation positive, always focusing on key learnings.

There were no particular lessons that stood out at the time, but what clearly defined the day was a shared sense of celebrating our team as a cohesive unit. It showed how the Friday meetings have given us permission for candor. Not only can we speak up, but we can speak our minds. We can be authentic and vulnerable at the same time.

Sometimes saying how we feel is used as a platform to vent, as it leaves us with a sense of positivity having been heard and feeling supported. We remind each other to take the key lesson from our adversity so that we can move on and become even better individuals.

A lesson in trust

To move a team forward, improve, and build a culture of performance, it takes honest conversations and risking speaking your mind. We learn from each other when there is a safe space to provide feedback or criticism.

Divergent opinions will always be prevalent in high-performing companies, no matter the enjoyment or lack of psychological safety. But once we feel safe with each other, we are more open to listening, and therefore open to receiving feedback.

By trusting our team members, we can believe in each other and effortlessly implement lessons for self-improvement.

Author: Marelise Gilbert