Safety at Work - How Do You Help Your Team to Feel OK? » Mind Tools Blog
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Safety at Work – How Do You Help Your Team to Feel OK?

August 8, 2019

©Getty Images/bruev

We put this question to our followers on social media, and they all agreed on one thing.

Being safe at work isn’t confined to steel boots and safety helmets these days. How people feel is every bit as vital.

And organizations that create environments in which people feel “psychologically safe” will reap the rewards.

It’s common sense that happier staff are more engaged, more productive – and stay longer. The evidence is all there.

Psychological Safety

Harvard Business School professor Dr Amy Edmondson coined the phrase “psychologically safe.” (Look out for our exclusive Expert Interview with her later this year.) She defined it as, “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”

Put another way, safe workplaces are respectful, meaning that people are not afraid to voice their ideas or opinions.

Google’s two-year study on team performance came up with the same results. It found that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety. Their members don’t live in fear of punishment if they make a mistake.

Other recent studies confirm that moderate risk taking, speaking your mind, and “sticking your neck out” without fear of having it cut off, are just the types of behavior that lead to a competitive edge.

Top Tips for a “Safe” Environment

So, how do you help your colleagues to feel OK?

For @TheGoldPower1, it’s a question that can be answered in a three-word tweet: “Start with RESPECT :)”

After that, life coach @ot_sheffield said that safety comes from “… encouraging ideas and being supportive, without taking away a colleague’s sense of responsibility and feeling of self-worth.”

Rafael Cortés Acostan summed it up like this: “Confidence, communication, open doors policies and clear expectations.”

For flight attendant Rosane Duarte, it’s important to think about passenger safety, but also about the safety of her colleagues. And she insists that helping everyone to feel safe is a collective responsibility.

She said, “By working as a team, together and not as individuals, we may have the opportunity to feel what colleagues are feeling, identify the fears and find solutions together.”

One young manager in U.K. tech development is rooting his strategy in just such an approach.

He said, “The question is how do you give the team what they need to be able to succeed? A big part of that is to do with psychological safety in the workplace. That means focusing on creating an atmosphere where people can make mistakes and be able to treat them as learning experiences. Somewhere you won’t just be told, ‘You’ve done wrong.’

“What I say to my team is, the only time you really mess up is when you make a mistake and don’t learn from it.”

Safety by Democracy

He added, “It’s quite a democratic approach. We vote on things. If we are changing systems or processes, we make a proposal and say, is everybody happy with that?

“If there is a ‘no,’ then it’s discussed by the group. Giving people confidence to contribute can help refine a new approach. And if you’ve had a say, you’re more engaged.”

On Facebook, Connie Campbell Braly laid out her approach for helping people feel psychologically safe at work. She said, “I encourage them and reinforce the contributions they make as a team member.”

Martina McGowan, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Heart City Health Center, Inc., told us on LinkedIn, “Listen first. Find out what the issue is, by their definition, not ours. Most people already know, or have within them, their preferred/desired solution/outcome to a situation, but have no one to share their ideas with.”

On the same platform, HR & Coaching Professional Nicola McCall said, “I will ask if a colleague needs anything if I am aware there is a difficult situation happening. I listen to colleagues when they need to sound off or cry. I will ask questions about what they want to do next and how they can resolve the issue.”

Thank you to everyone who shared their experiences and ideas.

Leaders Eat Last

A final thought from organizational and leadership guru Simon Sinek. In his bestseller, “Leaders Eat Last,” he declares, “Only when we feel we are in a Circle of Safety will we pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.”

(Premium Club members and Corporate users can find out more about Simon Sinek by reading our book insight on “Leaders Eat Last.”)

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