How Can Psychological Safety Help Your Team Evolve?

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This is the second part of a two-part blog series on Psychological Safety. It might be helpful to read Part I first, in order to give you more complete context about this term and what it means. If you don’t feel like you need that explanation, read ahead and enjoy!

There’s been a lot of focus recently on the psychological effects of the Covid pandemic and the measures that have been imposed to try to prevent its spread. Obviously there’s the shock from all these changes happening at once, and the feelings of loneliness, isolation and alienation that many have experienced from lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and the switch to remote/hybrid work environments.

Of course, there may also be deeper emotional tensions caused by the overall sense of anxiety and worry for ourselves and our families. There’s also a lot that’s been written about the grief that we feel, not just for the plight of people who are suffering, but also for lost opportunities, lifestyles and dreams. 

In other words, it’s still unclear how this ongoing trauma will affect us, even after the pandemic ends and we all go back or forward to “normal”. And it may affect people, teams and communities in different ways,

That’s why we think that  “psychological safety” can be useful for your team moving forward. It can’t fix all the problems mentioned above, but it can go a long way towards helping team members feel valued and teams feel more unified.

In this blog post, we’ll explain how you can use the ideas behind psychological safety to create stable, healthy and united teams. We’ll look at some of the common work culture challenges teams are facing right now, and use psychological safety to look at possible ways of overcoming them. 

A quick review of psychological safety

We gave a more in-depth explanation of psychological safety in the last part of this series. But just to review, psychological safety is a term used in group organization and team building that focuses on the work environment and creating a safe place for team members to share feelings and ideas.

Psychologically safe workplaces are ones in which there is a lack of fear. This allows team members to talk openly, to form new ideas with each other, and even to engage in productive disputes with each other (which are managed and remain in control). Because this type of environment is fundamentally based on trust, teams are also able to stay resilient and unified in the face of challenges. 

Current workplace challenges

1) Online Work and Isolation

The recent growth in online work has led to a massive shift in work-life balance, work culture and how people perceive work. There have been lots of benefits as a result of more flexibility and extra time spent on hobbies and with family. 

However, remote work can also feel isolating. While there are many tools and apps that help ease communication between team members, remote work has led to a lack of spontaneous interaction and communication. With daily socialization in the halls or in the breakroom gone, it’s easy to feel more “alone”. 

Team members also need to feel valued, which necessitates communication on a regular basis. So the potential decrease in communication can lead to further feelings of isolation and estrangement. 

These issues can eventually create diminishing levels of trust between team members, and a psychologically unsafe environment. 

2) Hybrid teams and lack of team unity

There are similar potential issues when it comes to hybrid teams (teams that work remotely part-time, or teams in which some of the members work remotely while some work in the office). However, here the issue is slightly different when it comes to team unity.

Fully remote teams also have to deal with a potential lack of team unity, of course. However, in fullt remote teams, at least the entire team is having the same (for the most part) experience. With hybrid teams, this is not the case.

From a psychological safety perspective, this means that not all team members will necessarily have access to the same information, or be able to interact in the same way. Here too, isolation and feelings of estrangement could result. 

To deal with this will require trying to forge stronger bonds between team member clusters, and ensure that more group-wide sharing takes place to facilitate greater communication and trust.

3) Feeling “Burnt Out”

As we noted above, the stress of change and the ongoing pandemic can easily feed anxiety and emotional exhaustion, also known more commonly as “burnout”. 

Burn out can happen at any time of course. But lately there have been a few writers who have pointed out the particular dimensions of the burn out happening now: the need to keep going in the face of constant worry and change, the lack of a sense of stability to hold on to,  the uncertainty about when it all will be over, etc.

We can’t just stop everything because we are feeling burnt out. At the same time, we have to acknowledge when we are feeling burnt out, and be able to share that with our team members. This can make us feel vulnerable, but it also leads to greater trust. 

So it’s not a question of how to get rid of burn out, but rather how to create spaces in which burnout can be addressed and managed in a healthy way. This may include being more flexible in giving time off and taking mental health into more consideration. And for that to happen, teams need to feel psychologically safe. 

Towards a more psychologically safe workplace 

Psychological safety stresses the importance of sharing and communication. A strong basis of trust is needed for workers to feel safe and able to express their creativity. 

Online tools won’t in of themselves recreate the magic of the workplace, or create some fundamentally new and wonderful work experience. Extra intention is needed to fill in those social gaps that are missing from current workplace communication tools, and to decide on which are actually necessary for teams to thrive.

The more communication teams have, the better. Teams could actively reach out to each other and have “check ins” where they just talk for a bit about anything.  Teams can also plan fun, creative activities that utilize the same online spaces as their work. Zoom parties and online team building activities are a good way to do this. 

But more than this, teams right now have the opportunity to reimagine what workplace cultures and spaces look like, because nothing is the same. Instead of looking back at what was, we can all look forward and build something better.

Perhaps teams can learn to be more willing to share feelings, and deal with emotions. Perhaps some teams can even shift how their structures work to make them more horizontal and less hierarchical. Teams that try to improve, that work hard to build trust and listen more to each other, will no doubt be able to move in the right direction. They’ll also be well-situated to deal with future challenges when they come. 

Conclusion

Psychological safety offers particularly relevant ways of thinking through the situations confronting teams due to the pandemic and the shift to remote work. We tend to forget that what teams are doing now is creating new work spaces. So paying attention to how those spaces can help or hinder team communication, relationships and trust is important. 

Focusing on psychological safety now can give your team the foundation to start planning for the future together. It can give your team the confidence to move forward into the unknown. And it can make your team more resilient in the long run. 

Invite Japan has a wide range of activities that are geared towards getting your team to think about psychological safety and working towards creating a strong and stable structure. We even have a workshop dedicated to the topic of psychological safety. Get in touch with us to find out more! 

Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

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