By: Kerry Freeman, Psychological Safety Index Practitioner
Company culture can sometimes be really hard to see when you’re in it. We make 100’s of small modifications to our behaviour to ensure we fit in and get on inside our organisations - that’s just human behaviour. And rather than suffer with cognitive dissonance – that weird feeling you get when you take an action which isn’t in line with your thoughts – we tend to justify or rationalise those modifications, sometimes without even noticing, to continue to fit in.
But there are key moments where your culture will come into sharp relief.
Imagine you’re in a meeting. An idea for a product or service has just been pitched by your manager. Immediately you know 2 things – it’s going to have negative impact on your most vulnerable customers, and your team is going to hate doing it.
Your managers asks the group - ‘Anyone see a problem with this?’
Scenario 1: inside you’re screaming ‘yes!’ You look around the room seeking clues of other reactions. Everyone else is doing to same, whilst trying to look calm and competent. You’re trying to phrase a constructive way of plicating your manager, not look stupid, making your point and not getting fired. Your stomach has flipped. Your heart rate is elevated.
Before you’ve managed to summon up the courage to speak, your manager says ‘No? OK, let’s get that moving and crack on to the next agenda item then’
Scenario 2: Your manager asks everyone to spend a couple of minutes individually coming up with the arguments for and against, and then you share your thoughts with a colleague. Every member of the team shares a critical point – it’s clear that there is a reoccurring theme and your manager listens, asks follow up questions, ideas for solutions – and as a result some amends are made to the proposal which you’re happy make a great compromise.
Your managers says ‘Great, lets each take those next steps! Thank you for your contributions. I love you. Everyone take the rest of the day off’
Scenario 1 = an environment which is not psychologically safe. If you feel you need ‘courage’ to speak the truth, then something is not right. The manager is partly responsible, but its likely they’ve been taught the techniques by their manager, and their manager before them. What they’re missing in this scenario is ideas, alternative, risks, issues, innovation, inclusion – all that good stuff that helps organisations grow and thrive in a VUCA world.
Scenario 2 = a psychologically safe environment. The manager invites debate and challenge to make something better. The meeting is organised in a way that makes it safe and actively encourages people to share ideas and alternatives. What they’re gaining from their people is their full potential, innovation, action, honest risk and issue identification which leaders to continuous improvement, and an inclusive environment exploring complex problems from multiple viewpoints.
If scenario 1 feels uncomfortably familiar for you – rest assured, you’re not alone. You might be the manager who is frustrated with no one sharing their ideas or questions. You might be the individual spending more time than they’d like to on impression management. More and more organisations are discovering how Psychologically Safety can transform relationships and decision-making in their teams.
It can start pretty simply with a conversation about the Fearless Organisations Psychological Safety Index – a few powerful survey questions which explore the four different elements of Psychological Safety – Attitudes to risk and failure, Inclusion, Willingness to Help, and Open Conversations. One of our experienced practitioners will then facilitate a session with your team. Simple but powerful conversations.
We live in complex times. There are alot of “wicked questions” that have a tangled web of dependencies and it’s very unlikely that there’s a single person in your organisation who has the resources to answer those questions. To even begin to tackle those questions we need to create environments that are inclusive, helpful, have a healthy attitude to risk and failure and where people feel comfortable to have open conversations. We need be able to overcome polarisation, contemplate multiple viewpoints and see different alternatives without getting defensive. That is what Psychological Safety is all about.
Get in touch to find out more!