Building psychological safety in teams: Fostering openness and innovation

Building psychological safety in teams: Fostering openness and innovation

Have you ever wanted to share an idea, but felt that if you did, you wouldn't be taken seriously — or worse — even punished? If that's the case, you probably weren't in a psychologically safe environment.

Unfortunately, I've heard far too many stories featuring that scenario, which is why I want to talk about fostering a sense of psychological safety within your teams. In today's evolving workplace, fostering a culture of psychological safety is paramount for any leader aiming to build innovative and resilient teams. Let's get started.

Understanding psychological safety

First, let's define psychological safety. Essentially, it's a concept in organisational behaviour that promotes interpersonal risk-taking. In a team that embraces psychological safety, workers are free to express their ideas or share opinions. They can flag concerns or admit when they've made a mistake and not have to worry about being punished or embarrassed.

In a psychologically safe environment, workers can feel comfortable just being themselves. This, in turn, allows them to be engaged team members who can contribute fully and openly. And that can lead to innovation and other benefits — but more on that in a little bit.

Creating a safe environment

A psychologically safe environment sounds good, doesn't it? But how can you create one within your teams? As a leader, there are a few steps you can take to build trust and encourage open communication.

  • Lead by example: You weren't always in a management position. Share your own challenges and learning experiences with your teams. This fosters a sense of vulnerability and open dialogue. Not everybody's perfect on the job — and that's OK.
  • Keep feedback constructive: Remember, it's not about scolding workers or making them feel ashamed when they make mistakes. It's about offering feedback that focuses on growth and improvement. Team members should know it's OK to take risks and learn from their mistakes.
  • Create venues for open discussion: Hold regular team meetings and 1:1s so workers actually have opportunities to share their views.
  • Celebrate diversity: When appropriate, share those truly brilliant fresh ideas to take team dynamics to the next level. If other team members see their colleague getting recognised for their unique viewpoints, they'll know it's OK for them to share their own thoughts.

Encouraging innovation

OK, now back to those benefits I teased earlier. When team members feel psychologically safe, they're more likely to engage in innovative thinking and problem-solving. Consider these strategies for fostering innovation:

  • Promote experimentation: Just because you work one way doesn't mean there isn't a better, more efficient approach to getting something done. Encourage your team to try new approaches and learn from failures. This can lead to breakthrough ideas and solutions. Just be sure to keep the communication flowing freely to ensure good ideas get shared.
  • Encourage collaboration: Some people just work better when they have someone else to bounce ideas off of. Don't miss out on opportunities for innovation — encourage cross-functional teamwork. This allows diverse ways of thinking to come together and, potentially, create something truly special.
  • Support independence: Nobody likes a micromanager. If you encourage team members to take ownership over their work or try to solve problems on their own, it may spur greater confidence and even fresher ideas.

Psychological safety with help from ICML

Building psychological safety within your team is a journey that requires continuous effort and commitment. By implementing the strategies outlined above, you can create an environment where openness, innovation and creativity thrive. Just remember, you're not alone in your efforts — ICML can help. Explore our course on Psychological Safety for more comprehensive strategies and guidance.

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