7 Leadership Behaviors That Build Psychological Safety in The Workplace

Humans are a clusterfuck of emotions. Fear of failure, of being judged, of being wrong, of being seen as incompetent, as being seen as ignorant, all contribute to the challenge of creating successful teams that both get along and bring out the best of each other.

With that said, what are the conditions leaders must create for successful team to thrive?

In a quest to build the perfect team, in 2017 Google conducted a study where it found 5 key dynamics that set successful teams apart: psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning and impact.

The most important one, psychological safety, describes an interpersonal climate where people feel safe to express ideas, ask questions, acknowledge mistakes, and raise concerns early and often. It’s safe to say that leaders who fail to create psychological safety create no team at all!

Creating psychological safety is hard but important. When it comes to innovation work that requires cross-disciplinary, cross-border teaming, it’s not easy for people to share ideas and expertise. Some people worry about what others will think of them. Some fear that they will be less valuable if they share what they know. Others don’t want to be seen as show off’s. Others may feel weak by accepting other people’s ideas.

A leader’s role is super important, because team members are looking at them. And the biggest source of influence a leader has on a team, group, organization is the example they set; they model the behavior on which collaboration depends. Leaders have to create the conditions where people can feel safe to express themselves freely without fear of being judged, ignored or being put in their place.

As a leader, how do you create an environment where people’s potential is unleashed?

To unleash the innovation potential in teams, here are 7 leadership actions that help build a climate of psychological safety where innovation can thrive:

  1. Be accessible. Leaders encourage team members to learn together by supporting team members, being accessible and personally involved.
  2. Acknowledge limits. When leaders admit they don’t know something, their genuine display of humility encourages other team members to follow suit.
  3. Display fallability. To create psychological safety, team leaders must demonstrate a tolerance of failure by acknowledging their own fallability.
  4. Invite participation. When people believe their leaders value their input, they’re more engaged and responsive.
  5. Frame failure as learning opportunities. Instead of punishing people for well-intentioned risks that backfire, leaders encourage team members to embrace error and deal with failure in a productive manner.
  6. Use direct language. Using direct, actionable language instigates the type of straightforward, blunt discussion that enables learning.
  7. Set boundaries. When leaders are as clear as possible about what is acceptable, people feel psychologically safer than when boundaries are vague or unpredictable.

These are the leadership actions that help build a climate of psychological safety where innovation can thrive.

Also published on Medium.