During a weekly team meeting at Company Zed, LaTonya, an employee who has worked for the company for nine months, questioned one of the company’s normal operating processes. She offered an idea that she believed would meet the same goal while saving the company time and money. After discussing and researching the idea, Company Zed was able to implement the new process, which resulted in a savings of both time and money. Meanwhile, at Company Alpha’s team meeting, a long-term employee had a similar time-and-money-saving idea but refrained from bringing her idea up for discussion. As a result, Alpha continued to engage in their normal process.
What differentiates these companies and results in Zed’s high level of teamwork and ability to solve complex problems? The employee at Company Alpha appears concerned with impression management. It is likely that her past experiences or the company’s culture has taught this employee that she is safer to withhold her thoughts, questions, or concerns. In doing so, Alpha does not learn as a team, improve the organization, or engage in innovation.
The employee at Zed appears to feel safe voicing her idea, even though it calls for the company to make a change to operations. Given the employee’s willingness to voice her opinion, Company Zed appears to have a higher level of psychological safety than Alpha. Psychological safety is the belief that an individual will not be humiliated or punished for being curious, offering an idea, questioning the status quo, or admitting to a mistake.
To be competitive and successful in business today, teams must be able to develop cooperative relationships and solve complex problems. Research indicates that teams with high levels of psychological safety are more likely to be open-minded, creative, curious, confident, social, humorous, persistent, and to feel more comfortable speaking frankly about ideas, concerns, questions, and mistakes. Teams high in psychological safety report that their work environment feels challenging but not threatening, which allows members to feel comfortable expressing vulnerability in front of a group of peers. The ability to engage in vulnerability-inducing behaviour encourages moderate levels of risk-taking and strategic development of solutions to complex problems.
Teams high on psychological safety also exhibit differences in their brain chemistry. Specifically, teams with high levels of psychological safety have increased levels of Oxytocin, which has been called the “love hormone.” Oxytocin levels affect how we bond with and trust others. In team environments, increased levels of Oxytocin lead to more trust, openness, and the ability to manage conflict, which results in improved team performance.
Increasing your company’s level of psychological safety may provide the competitive advantage that will continue to differentiate your company from your competitors. Please let us know if you need assistance with implementing strategies to increase psychological safety.