Psychological Safety

Research shows that psychological safety is a key element for effective collaboration. It comes down to an environment in which people believe that they can speak up candidly with ideas, questions, concerns, and even mistakes. TuE speaks of Social Safety. I will, from now on, use this term as well when referring to psychological safety. Perhaps a fully social safe, or fearless workplace, is an impossibility. People are naturally averse to losing their standing in the eyes of peers and bosses. Nonetheless, more and more organizations and leaders recognize that social safety is “mission critical” when knowledge is a crucial source of value. Therefore, a social safe environment is something to continually strive toward rather than to achieve once and for all. It’s a never ending dynamic journey.

There is more than one way in which social safety manifests itself in the workplace. When a team, department, or organization gets social safety right, it can seem remarkably straightforward, especially when compared to the stories of people navigating the interpersonal and conversational complexities created by fear and distrust. But let’s not get stuck into safety platitudes such as “be inclusive”, “foster a culture of trust”, etc. If it were that easy, every organization would be a haven of happy, engaged people delivering great value, but that’s clearly not the case. Instead, we need actionable items that apply to the current context. There are common practices applicable to all teams and contexts (such as leaders admitting mistakes or doubts, asking questions, and focusing on learning outcomes over productivity or results), but the most powerful advice is that which applies specifically to the context the team is operating in.

The Social Safety Toolbox and the supportive leadership toolkit prove applicable practices that teams and their leaders can apply in their own team and academic context. Focus lies on supporting people with practical suggestions and actions, so they have the opportunity to take matters into their own hands. When they like and need, they can ask for support and coaching.