How does psychological safety within an organisational setting contribute to improved performance and wellbeing?
People drive performance but we often forget the human element in business
When striving to improve performance within the context of increasing commercial pressures it can be easy to overlook the human element of business. This means that employee wellbeing can sometimes slip down the priority list.
Yet it is people who drive performance. Policies and procedures only take us so far, they provide the way. It is however, the will, the motivation and energy of our people, that generates long term sustainable business performance.
The highest performing teams consistently have one thing in common – psychological safety
When it comes to enhancing motivation and energy, it’s useful to reflect on what exactly we are measuring and why. A great place to start is to consider the question ‘what do the highest performing teams have in common?’. This was exactly what Google’s Project Aristotle team studied across 180 teams, over a two-year period, and the results unearthed the unexpected.
The highest performing teams did have a number of things in common including dependability, structure and clarity, meaning and impact. However, the one thing that underpinned everything else was a ‘you won’t be punished if you make a mistake’ culture. The study found that it was not who was on the team that counted, it was the way in which those teams members interacted with each other that made the most difference to performance. In other words, the level of psychological safety that existed within the team.
“Psychological safety, more than anything else was critical to making a team work”
– Google, Project Aristotle, 2012
Fear of speaking up can lead to catastrophic events causing detrimental damage to corporate reputation
Psychological safety is a term first used by the Harvard Business Professor, Amy Edmondson in her study of the negative and sometimes tragic impacts attributed to a person’s fear, or inability to speak up, in an organisational setting. She examined numerous cases across many different sectors including health and the airline and automotive industries. Findings showed that systemic failure to speak up led, in some cases, to catastrophic events, causing detrimental damage to corporate reputation and sustainability.
In a psychologically safe organisation we feel free to speak our minds and share new ideas
When organisations get it right, when we feel psychologically safe in our working environment, we do not feel judged but instead supported by our colleagues. We feel we have permission to fail and are confident in our ability to own our mistakes in order to learn and grow from them. We feel free to speak our minds, share new ideas and actively seek feedback from those around us. This is because we know this will come from a place of mutual trust and respect.
Numerous studies identify a direct correlation between levels of psychological safety and business performance
Based on her research, Edmondson suggests that most workplaces are not psychologically safe with wellbeing and performance suffering as a result. This was reinforced by Gallup who, building on the work of Google, commissioned a survey in 2017, which found that only three in 10 employees strongly agree with the statement ‘that their opinions count at work’.
Gallup calculated that if organisations moved the ratio from three to six in 10 employees, they would benefit from a 27% reduction in staff turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents, and a 12% increase in productivity.
In fact, further studies now identify six areas of business performance which have a direct link with psychological safety these are:
- Creativity (R&D, problem solving)
- Customer experience (wherever employees touch customers)
- Revenue (employee-customer interaction & problem solving)
- Shrinkage/effectiveness (the “give a darn” quotient)
- Sick days, turnover (stress, bullying, abuse, significance)
- Safety (conforms to Bradley Safety Curve)
We enable organisations to measure and improve levels of psychological safety for improved wellbeing and performance
Accessing the assessment tools to measure psychological safety, aligned with business KPIs, is a powerful proposition for any organisation wishing to invest in the wellbeing of its employees whilst continuing to deliver sustainable business performance.
Minerva Engagement is accredited to deliver Conductor, the only fully validated survey tool designed specifically to measure organisational psychological safety. Founded on the latest learning and insights from neuroscience, the Conductor survey lifts the lid on team culture and behaviour and the correlation with organisational KPIs and performance.
As the UK representative we are delighted to add this powerful tool to our leadership and psychological safety practice. Case studies across different geographies are evidencing the findings and research already undertaken by Edmondson, Google and Gallup.
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References and further reading:
- How Fearless Organizations Succeed, Amy Edmondson, 2018, strategy-business.com
- Guide: Understand Team Effectiveness – Google Project Aristotle, Re:work
- Psychological Safety: How to Build Trust and Create Open, Successful Teams, Chris Strouthopoulos, 2018, TED Talk
- High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It, Laura Delizonna, 2017, Harvard Business Review