Balancing wellbeing and performance can be a challenging task, particularly in the new hybrid world of work, so how do you incorporate a culture of psychological safety within this environment?
The most recent Make a Difference webinar saw experts in the wellbeing space come together to discuss themes around creating psychologically safe and thriving teams in a hybrid world of work.
Sponsored by Awaris, the panel was lead by Chris Tamdjidi, Founder and Managing Director. He was joined by Sunita Wazir, Senior Manager – Global Wellbeing, Unilever and Hayley Farrell, Global Wellbeing and Resilience Manager, Arcadis.
Chris kicked off the webinar discussion by posing five key questions surrounding psychologically safety, sharing data from both Awaris’ and others’ research on the topic.
Here are each of the questions presented to the panel, along with the key thoughts and insights that arose from the discussion.
Why is psychological safety so important?
Google project Aristotle revealed the psychological safety is the number one predictor of team effectiveness – and also a predictor of whether people would stay or leave.
Chris shared data from Awaris research, showing there’s a fourfold difference between those that have high or low psychological safety – teams are 4.2x more likely to be high or low performing depending on their level of psychological safety.
He mentioned that this also affects innovation – high psychological safety showed 2.4x higher innovation ability.
Other key insights from the discussion were:
- Comfortable culture – Team members need to feel comfortable to admitting mistakes, which leads to opportunity to learn from failure (which is inevitable)
- Learning and growth – if everyone shares ideas openly, challenges, admits mistakes there will be more innovation leading to greater trust, creativity, dynamic and reposnsive teams.
- No fear – Sunita said ‘No-one comes up with great ideas when being chased by a tiger’. When you’re operating from an environment of fear – feeling your opinion is not valued or welcomed you’re not going to feel at ease and performance won’t improve.
- Psychologically safety enables team performance.
- Mitigate risk – We need to mitigate risks to create psychologically safe spaces – Hayley said:
“We’re not going to create psychologically safe spaces if we as an organisation don’t take an approach to mitigate risks that are the causing well-being hazards to our employees. because they’re not going to trust us we can’t talk about well being in psychological, safety, if we’re not looking after the well-being of our own people, and taking it seriously and that’s where psychological health and safety management comes into play.”
- Duty of care – Organisations have a duty of care to look after the health and saftey of employees while they are at work and that will create a culture where people feel that they belong, they feel that they can trust, leads to productivity, higher performance, less at absenteeism and higher engagement.
- Means to an end – Sunita suggested psychological safety is a ‘means to an end’ – the end being a better work environment – to get the workplace to work smoothly. The means is to speak up, solve issues, prevent them, to be able to be innovative and creative.
What is the connection between well being and psychological safety?
Awaris data showed team psychological safety buffers team stress and thus increases the resilience of a team. It has a mediating effect on stress. High stress reduces psychological safety and vice versa.
When you feel you don’t have psychological safety your wellbeing is impacted. Suntia suggested this can lead to negative feelings and beliefs such as seeing mistakes as threats to your career, feeling fear, feeling unsafe or unwelcome to speak up. This can then in turn lead to physical impacts on wellbeing, such as headaches, stomach aches etc.
Chris explained that the positive impacts of psychological safety (based on surveying) were better self reported engagement, connection, ability to reach out. It has a positive correlation with performance.
Hayley felt that psychological safety should be a part of your wellbeing strategy, but wellbeing as a whole is about far more.
She talked about tangible factors that impact psychological safety and wellbeing, such as role ambiguity, conflict in teams, repetitive workload – all factors that can inhibit the trust and environment of psychological safety within a team.
Is it harder to build physiological safety in virtual or hybrid teams?
With so much focus on connection and belonging when it comes to psychological safety, is it therefore harder to build in remote working or hybrid teams?
The panel were mainly in agreement that yes, psychological safety is more challenging in the hybrid world.
Chris shared research from Microsoft showing that teams have not quite yet learned to build psychological safety in the hybrid format. When thinking about team culture and psychological safety the data showed that 70% of teams haven’t spoken about this yet.
What pathways do we see to building psychological safety in our teams or organisations?
- New way of working is needed – People are still trying to work in the old way – coming out of covid but trying to do the same things.
- Intentionality – Need to deliberate about taking time to switch off, to connect, have conversations.
- Leaders have to lead from the front – Hayley talked about the tone comes from the top, mood in the middle, felt at the front.
- Multifaceted approach – Wellbeing is multifaceted and needs both promotional and preventional sides. Creating a culture where people feel safe to recognise which risks are impacting them and that something is really going to be done about it.
- Arcadis approach – taking a psychological safety and management system approach and treating health in the same way we treat safety.
- Whole self – It’s fundamental that people come to work and leave work as a ‘whole person’
- Safe space – vital to create a culture of ‘safe space’
- Feedback is a gift’ – Sunita shared how important it is for leadership to build skills and behaviors that help people to speak up. Helping managers understand how their behaviour impacts the willingness of people to speakup, responding well – not pointing fingers – building an environment of supporting speaking up, building empathy – ‘the soft stuff is the hard stuff;.
- Building habits – Chris shared that research shows there are correlations between check ins and peoples psychological safety. It’s important to build the habits, build the soft skills that anchor the habits. A systematic pathway to working with teams to establish habits leads to strong change at the personal level, and at the team level.
How far is far enough?
The final question was how far do we need to go when it comes to psychological safety?
Chris stated there there is no ‘too much’ when it comes to psychological safety. There is strong correlation between psychological safety and team performance.
The rest of the panel agreed, with Hayley adding that ‘a critical part of creating a psychologically safe environment is connection and consultation’. A collaborative approach and culture is needed. She said it’s important to talk the language that your organisation and executive leadership understands -make it relatable. if that’s risk, then talk to risk, if that’s belonging and trust, talk to that.
A common theme agreed by the panel is that connection is key. Sunita posited ‘when connection is lost, everything is lost’ with Chris adding that psychological safety is ‘a human, ‘felt’ topic. Connection makes a difference. Being deliberate about connection is very very important.’
What exactly is psychological safety?
Claire Farrow rounded off the webinar by posing a question asked in the webinar chat to each of the panel members:
Can you sum up in one sentence the description of psychological safety?
Here’s what they had to say.
“It’s the felt sense of being willing to take a risk, to share, willing to express emotions and willing to actually learn and grow. It’s a felt sense of that in the environment that you’re in.”
“I’m going to add learning from failure. We’re really not good at that. So building the muscle of learning from when things go wrong. The whole idea of not repeating mistakes, I think that’s gold for us.”
“I’m going to extend it, because I don’t like to speak about psychological safety on its own.Psychological health and safety is the mitigation of workplace hazards that have a negative impact on employee wellbeing.”
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