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Do you feel safe to challenge upwards?

Updated: Jun 10, 2019

danger sign warning of high voltage
Psychological safety is all about creating a fearless culture where candour and openness and speaking up is encouraged. So it’s a powerful predictor of team performance. Photo by Ben Hershey@ Unsplash.

Have you ever sat in a team meeting and not voiced your thoughts for fear of reprisal, ridicule, looking stupid or not being ‘right’?

We can all recall those moments when we have chosen the ‘safe rather than sorry’ route. And these occasions are not limited to work either. Our mammalian brain is constantly scanning for negative bias to ensure we are socially accepted because connection and relationships matter to us mammals!

Today I’ve been sitting in on a fascinating webinar with David Lewis ­– Director of London Business School’s Senior Executive Programme – and Human Insight, the research company he co-founded, on Quality of Interaction Training. I’ve always been excited about this area of organisational psychology and the session didn’t disappoint.

Imagine working for an organisation where you could go to meetings – even with the most senior person (a silverback perhaps?!) – and know you have permission and support to be able to ‘contribute with full conviction you can be wrong’

To bring the best of ourselves to work we, our teams and our organisations can be so much more empowered in an environment of ‘psychological safety’. However, we are creatures of habit and we all have very different perspectives of our experience in our working environment.

The curiosity and research around psychological safety at work has been out there for many years. Amy Edmonson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, was a pioneer and now, 20 years after identifying the concept, she’s a guru on the subject.

Testing how safe a team really feels

But it was last year’s Harvard Business Review article by Alison Reynolds and David Lewis that really made me sit up and think. Why? Because it seems that there may well be a tool that can now help us assess that temperature check of how a team feel and also how they want to feel.

So it was awesome to be able to listen to David Lewis for the three-hour Web session this morning.

Forget expensive engagement surveys! This tool can be way more focused and puts the diagnosis and the power to change behaviour directly into the hands of those who have created their own results.

I’m really looking forward to piloting this measure with a team soon so they can understand their current reality of how psychological safety feels – but also define how they want it to be (the desired state) and make decisions on how they are going to fill that gap.

Now of course we all know that behavioural habits will still need changing for success (as is the case with anything in life) and like any habit change, success will only come with repetition, commitment, reward but also – very importantly – feedback.

Watch this space as I trial it with a team soon.

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