Psychological Safety

Psychological Safety

I would like to return to a question asked last week that I didn’t have the time to respond to fully. So, if I may ask for a little of your time (which is interesting in the context of the question asked): 

What if I (as status leader) – don’t want to hear all the voices / don’t have the time to listen to everyone / don’t want a drawn-out discussion given that I / the process/the organisation don’t have the time? 

I realise that my talk may have given people the sense that psychological safety is the panacea to all ills. It’s not. But it is a necessary condition for high performance. 

So here the fuller response 

  1. The framing of the conversation(s) – is a leadership task. What is our Vision, Strategy, Values, Mandate, Purpose? If the conversation(s) you as a team are having are all over the place, then I suggest you look at how clear you are as a leader/ as a team on the fundamentals. 
  2. Power of Coherence individual & team Purpose If you feel that Vision, Strategy, Values, Mandate, Purpose are clear and still the conversations are off track or filled with complaints then take a look at how connected the purpose, values and work of the team is with that of the individuals. Really powerful high performing teams have coherence between the individual (what he/she wants to contribute and how) and the work of the team. 
  3. Psychological Safety is only about creating the conditions under which relevant conversations happen. It does not set the agenda for the conversations, nor does it say anything about the criteria for decision-making. It’s about creating the conditions under which people feel safe to contribute, challenge, question, innovate, create and listen.  
  4. Decision making process Unless you are operating in a TEAL environment it is ultimately the status leader who takes the decision and bears the consequences: positive and negative. The clarity, transparency and criteria by which decisions are taken, is often a source of complaint. When these criteria are clear, people feel assured that – even if they disagree – their contribution has been heard and that the team is taking the wisest course.  
  5. Participation or Informing Be aware of the difference between participation / consultation and informing. Often we kid ourselves that we’re asking for contributions in a participatory process when in fact the decision has been taken and you just want people to say ‘yes’. People feel this and if done too often leads to cynicism, upset etc. 
  6. BTW it is totally OK to take decisions without engaging everyone; completely OK to engage those you think can contribute; completely OK to only inform and not consult. It I a leadership task to be clear on which areas are for discussion, which not. . 

Team dynamics go wrong: 

  • When purpose and mandate are unclear,  
  • Not connected with individual team member. 
  • Where there is a lack of transparency about the criteria for decision making (a huge area of upset). 
  • Where there are hidden agendas: conversations launched as consultation when in fact they are simply informative. This is funest! 
  • Where there is no space to contribute in a meaningful way to conversations that require the wisdom of the team. 

And here’s the thing: taking time upfront with the team to get really clear on framework and boundaries may seem like unnecessary vertraging or even a waste of time but if you don’t attend to this from the get-go, you’re going to have delays / resistance/ complaints/ silence/ with-holding later in the process. It’s why so many change efforts fail.  

Feel free to connect with me if you have more questions or would like further background information. 

Wishing you well and thank you for taking part last week, I really enjoyed it. 

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