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Lucy Ball is an executive coach, pairs coach and team coach.

Aug 2019

Ignore psychological safety at your peril

Psychological Safety has become part of the business and leadership lexicon. It is a simple, but powerful phenomenon. It describes a state in which one feels safe to be oneself in a group, without fear of shame or ridicule. The research is pretty convincing that teams who have more psychological safety perform better. It makes intuitive sense. If individuals can speak freely and expend less emotional energy pretending and defending, the team gets the best of them and that leads to successful results. In many organisations such as the NHS or high-risk safety industries such as Nuclear Energy or Construction, those results can be a matter of life and death.

I believe it is one of those truths that many people know in their bones. A truth, that when it is validated by research and given language, is palpably recognisable. I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time writing about it here, partly because Amy Edmondson (helped by Google’s research published in the New York Times) has done such an awesome job of making the idea of Psychological Safety so accessible to all. What I will say is that EVERY leader needs to know that what they do and say is always either making it safer, or less safe, for their teams and people to speak openly.

Is your team a place where people fail to speak up for fear of being shamed, ridiculed or criticised?  Is your team a place where people fail to speak up because conflict is too hard to bear and politeness is more important than the search for truth? Is your team a place where people pussyfoot around things that need saying?  If so, what are you, as a leader doing to become aware of your role in creating that culture? There is no excuse any longer for seeing this a soft issue. Psychological Safety is as hard an issue as you can get. Leaders ignore it at their peril. Go Amy!

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