Psychological safety creates “The perfect forum”

Photo by C.Valdez on Unsplash

“Danny, you’ve built the perfect forum for leaders. We can admit what we don’t know. We can ask for help. We discuss how to become less biased. In the mastermind, vulnerability is not seen as weakness. It is seen as a strength.”

What a compliment!

Yes, I am SUPER PROUD of how I serve school leaders, but the point of this post is to share that psychological safety is POWERFUL and if you learn how to embed it into your organization, you will create a world-class culture.

What we can learn from Google

In 2015 Google released the results of a two-year study titled, “Project Aristotle.”

Over the course of this two-year study, they conducted 200+ interviews to find out what makes their teams effective. If they could identify that, then they could create more value every day.

Google looked at 250+ attributes of 180+ Google teams.

They thought they’d find the importance of A-players or superstar employees.

That’s not what they found.

In reality, how the team interacted was far more important than who made up the team.

What they found was that teams where psychological safety was apparent and thriving — those were the teams that outperformed the rest.

So what is psychological safety?

Amy Edmondson defined the term psychological safety in 1999 as:

“a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. For the most part, this belief tends to be tacit — taken for granted and not given direct attention, either by individuals or by the team as a whole. Although tacit beliefs about interpersonal norms are sometimes explicitly discussed in a team, their being made explicit does not alter the essence of team psychological safety”

Basically, psychological safety is about creating an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks without fear of consequence or judgment.

Organizations — and specifically schools — have a lot to learn about this.

Far too many organizations are full of hot air.

They claim to value “failing fast,” “taking risk,” and “learning from mistakes,” but in reality, they punish those that are willing to try something new.

When it doesn’t work — whack!

They manage by 2 x 4 and discipline anyone who strays from the status quo.

And how can you build psychological safety?

Edmondson’s research identified the beliefs, behaviors, and constructs which fostered psychological safety on teams.

Knowing these will help you design PD for your staff (and evaluate PD for yourself) to ensure that psychological safety is built into the experience.

The beliefs were: respect in peer’s abilities; a genuine interest in each other as people; an environment that welcomes your thoughts; and a shared belief of positive intentions.

The behaviors included seeking or giving feedback; and making changes and improvements (versus avoiding change or sticking with the status quo).

The constructs were obtaining or providing help or expertise; experimenting; and engaging in constructive conflict or confrontation

Six questions to consider . . .

I’d like to end with some reflection questions.

  • Do your actions reflect your values?
  • Do your people respect each other and show genuine interest in each other as people?
  • Do you welcome everyone’s thoughts? Especially those with thoughts different than yours!
  • Do you have regular feedback loops built into the organization in order to promote change and improvement?
  • Do you engage in constructive conflict?
  • Is help available to those who need it?

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Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀