Psychological Safety During COVID-19

If there is one thing that I'm sure of at this stage of the pandemic, it's that our teams and the individuals that make up those teams are feeling both uncertain and threatened.


Uncertain about their roles, their job security, the business, what the future holds, and some perhaps even uncertain about the state of their marriage when all is said and done.

Our teams are feeling threatened by the insecurity surrounding their status, threatened by the unknown, the lack of autonomy and ultimately threatened by the fairness of circumstance.


The behaviours that accompany these feelings fluctuate from engagement to detachment and we need to find ways to ensure we are supporting our talent to the best of our ability.

When there is uncertainty and interdependence, the one thing that is undeniably essential is psychological safety.

Prior to it becoming sensationalised through Google's Aristotle Project, psychological safety was the life-work of Novartis Professor of Leadership & Management at Harvard Business School ~ Amy Edmondson. Edmondson found that teams who possessed a high degree of openness, without the fear of speaking up or of making mistakes, were the team's who were able to perform at their best. Psychological safety was later defined as 'a climate where people feel safe enough to take interpersonal risks by speaking up and sharing concerns, questions, or ideas'. Further, in psychologically safe teams, members felt accepted and valued.


How Can You Cultivate Psychological Safety?


1. Frame work and problems at work as learning opportunities and make work meaningful. Be authentic, recognise the uncertainty, express the need to have everyone's knowledge. Utilise the strengths of the team to get the work done. Emphasise the opportunity to learn and solve problems together highlighting expectations and purpose. Say "How can I support you? Let's put our heads together. You seem frustrated, what can I do to help?" Focus on the behaviour rather than the individual.


2. Acknowledge your own fallibility & invite input. Emphasise the fact that we're all human and in this together. Create project teams, get everyone involved in the decision making. Say "I may miss something, I need your eyes and ears. I'd love your input. I need your help". Create forums for input and idea creation. Hold a psychological safety summit.


3. Demonstrate recognition. Commend others for their efforts and contributions, no matter how small. Thank team members both one-on-one and publicly, acknowledge individuals for their ideas. Say "I appreciate your insights. You've made a difference. Thank-you for your effort."


Challenges to Psychological Safety


In a recent webinar we held in the Lead to Win series, the number one reason that leaders felt was inhibiting psychological safety in their organisation was fear and uncertainty (71%) followed by both toxic individuals (57%) and the culture of the wider organisation (57%).

Every organisation faces their own challenges however, there are some common barriers that many contend with:


1. Fear & uncertainty (to include fear mongering, fear of being judged, fear of criticism)

2. Culture of wider organisation (to include hierarchical nature)

3. Toxic team members

4. Lack of time/competing priorities

5. Lack of confidence

6. Fear of leaders admitting their own vulnerability


Ask yourself how you are promoting psychological safety and identify what might be getting in the way. As leaders, it's essential that we bring our full selves to work and share the leadership within the team, enabling everyone to perform at their best. After all, we are all in this together and we know that....


The whole is greater than the sum of its' parts. (Aristotle)

Kirsten works with leaders and teams in assessing and developing psychological safety and is particularly passionate about running psychologically safe summits. Get in touch with her today if you're looking to raise the performance of your team! For more on leading for psychological safety, see Kirsten's article HERE on Daring to Lead.

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