How to foster a culture of psychological safety

According to Gallup, only 21% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization. There are many ways executives and managers can build a culture of trust, and one of the most important elements is fostering psychological safety.

Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, coined the term psychological safety, and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that it’s OK to take risks, to express their ideas and concerns, to speak up with questions, and to admit mistakes — all without fear of negative consequences.”

Even the most approachable and supportive managers need to focus on creating psychological safety, as some employees may hold back from sharing their true opinions or perspective, because as a manager, you hold a position of authority.

Building psychological safety in the workplace is crucial for fostering a culture of trust, collaboration, and innovation. Here are some key strategies leaders can use to cultivate psychological safety:

1. Encourage constructive conflict: Many leaders approach all conflict as bad, but constructive conflict is necessary and healthy for teams. Managers should encourage healthy conflict by asking for differing points of view. Many teams hover more toward artificial harmony—where employees don’t speak up, and go along with decisions to preserve harmony, even if they disagree. Both destructive conflict and artificial harmony are toxic to teams because they don’t foster an environment where employees can speak their mind without fear of consequences. Even in cultures that are very positive, employees may hold back for fear of going against the positive narrative, so it’s important for leaders in all organizations to foster psychological safety.

2. When possible, listen before you share: When a leader shares their ideas first in a meeting, employees will often agree because they want to preserve the relationship or don’t feel comfortable disagreeing with their boss. When possible, solicit ideas from team members before you share your perspective to surface different ideas and opinions.

3. Actively invite differing opinions: It’s not enough to just ask what team members think. To foster psychological safety, use specific questions and statements that encourage constructive conflict. For example:

  • Who has an idea that is different than the ones already shared?
  • I want to hear from someone who disagrees.
  • I’m open to feedback on this. Tell me why and how my idea won’t work.
  • Who has a different view on this topic?

This not only encourages different perspectives and constructive conflict, but it also demonstrates that leaders are expecting employees to disagree and normalizes differing views.

4. Acknowledge opposing views: When an employee has the courage to disagree with you or a colleague constructively, acknowledge it. This fosters a sense of safety; employees will feel more comfortable disagreeing and sharing their true ideas and opinions because you have demonstrated these differing viewpoints are welcomed. For example, “Jane, I appreciate you sharing that you disagree with the direction we have been discussing for this project.” Even if you don’t agree with the employee’s view, you can still acknowledge them for speaking up.

5. Regularly check in with each individual and your team: Go beyond using your individual and team meetings for only discussing tasks and projects. Two or three times a year, go deeper by asking questions about how you can improve the working relationship. I like to use this framework:

  • What is working well?
  • What is not working well?
  • How can I support you better?

I suggest giving employees time to reflect on these questions before you ask them to share. If you let your team members know that you will have this discussion regularly to ensure the team is working at their best, you make these discussions part of how you work together, and over time, most employees will become more comfortable sharing their ideas and perspectives.

6. Model accountability: One of the best and most important ways to build a culture of trust and authenticity is to ensure that your words and actions align. People don’t follow what you say, they follow what you do. It’s often the small things that chip away at trust and integrity. Following through on even the small things can also build a team of trust, accountability, and psychological safety. Model accountability in your everyday actions—be on time, follow through with commitments, and admit mistakes. When employees see their leader not only do what they say, but share when they make mistakes, they are more likely to do the same.

Creating psychological safety on your team and in your credit union culture takes consistent focus and intention. The healthiest cultures build in practices at every leadership level to solicit the real truth from employees. By providing a safe space to surface issues, challenges, and differing ideas, you foster a healthy, thriving organizational culture.

Laurie Maddalena

Laurie Maddalena

Laurie Maddalena is a dynamic and engaging keynote speaker and leadership consultant. She writes a monthly online column for next generation leaders for CUES and has published articles in Credit ... Web: Details