Psychological safety is the most important element of any successful team. This quick assessment will tell you if your team has it.
Tom Werner/Getty Images
Tom Werner/Getty Images
- Psychological safety is the feeling that people can suggest ideas, admit mistakes, and take risks without being embarrassed by the larger group.
- Google researchers discovered that psychological safety is the most important dynamic that sets successful teams apart.
- Here's a five-question assessment Liz Fosslein and Mollie West Duffy included in their book, "No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work" to determine your team's level of psychological safety - and identify steps you can take to increase it.
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We all know the feeling: You're struck by a brilliant idea in a meeting. In front of all of your coworkers and your boss, you share your plan. To your horror, your boss says, "Yeah, I don't think so." Maybe a coworker rolls his eyes. Your face burns and you wish the conference room floor would open up beneath you and swallow you whole. What are the chances you will ever speak up again?Probably zero. This is an example of a psychologically unsafe environment, one that stifles (potentially) good ideas, throttles growth, and makes good employees leave. In their book, "No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work," authors Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy include a simple assessment you can use to determine your team's degree of psychological safety.
In their book, the authors cite a study done by Google in 2012 to try and figure out "why some teams succeed where others fail." The Google researchers found that "individual team members' tenure, seniority, and extraversion didn't seem to affect team performance." It turns out that it doesn't matter who is on the team. "What mattered was the 'how': The best teams were those whose members respected one another's ideas," the authors state. It turns out that psychological safety is the most important dynamic that sets successful teams apart.To help you assess your team's level of psychological safety, the authors laid out just five statements modified from Amy Edmonson's Team Psychological Safety Assessment. Rate your team on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree) for the following:
- If I make a mistake on my team, it is often held against me.
- Members of my team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
- It is safe to take a risk on this team.
- It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
- Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.
To score, add up your scores from 2, 3, and 5 for a subtotal. Subtract your score on question 1 from 8 and your score on question 4 from 8, then add both of those numbers to the subtotal to get your final score. A final score of 0 to 15 means your team is psychologically unsafe, a score of 16 to 30 means your team has some psychological safety but could increase it, and a score of more than 30 means your team has a good amount of psychological safety.Don't want to do the math yourself? You can take the assessment on their site here.Even if your organization doesn't have a psychologically safe environment, there are things individuals and leaders can do themselves to work toward fostering psychological safety. "Take care of your mental well-being," the authors say, "and focus on what you can control."
They suggest that individuals can:
- Encourage open discussion. Questions should effectively invite opposing viewpoints.
- Suggest a bad ideas brainstorm. This takes the pressure off and allows team members to be silly and adventurous.
- Ask clarifying questions (to make it okay for others to do the same). When team members use acronyms or jargon, ask them to explain (and avoid using them yourself).
- Use generative language. Respond to suggestions with "Let's try it!" or "Building on that idea …"
And that leaders can:
- Create team agreements. These are ground rules for how you'll treat one another.
- Ask your team how you can help. As a leader, it's your job to start the conversation.
- Balance activities with communication. The work needs to get done, but teams also need to take the time to discuss feelings and needs.
- Ask questions that get to a deeper level. A question like "When you think of your childhood, what meal comes to mind and why?" elicits a different response than "What's your favorite food?"
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