Psychological safety boosts staff output

In organisational culture commensurate with modern work life, employees either love working in teams or hate them altogether. Net photo.

In organisational culture commensurate with modern work life, employees either love working in teams or hate them altogether.

While creativity comes far better from individual quiet alone work time and many report writing or logistical tasks are done faster by an individual rather than a team, much of the duties get assigned to committees or teams.

However, one of the most ubiquitous results that came out of the 1990s and still permeates the corporate landscape involves the vast workplace obsession with functioning in teams.

Even meetings are often exercises in futility. Bosses often want all their workers to feel that they all had input into a decision even though when listening to everyone in a meeting the superior still takes their own action thus ignoring the team.

Additionally, researcher Karen Tonso found that the loudest and most persistent person on a team usually got their way regardless of whether their ideas were the best or if team members individually liked the ideas.

Further, staff often know that their input will not yield any positive results for them personally or collectively so they fail to raise their voice on teams.

Employees can feel that meetings and teamwork have more to do with pleasing a supervisor than extending anything creative or innovative.

So, team work ends up consuming copious amounts of work time, often lowers productivity, and can reduce productivity. But does all teamwork need to come out so tedious and fruitless? No.

Placing employees into teams can indeed yield successful results. But forming, delegating, and monitoring teams must be intentional and not haphazard.

An important ingredient to team success originates from a concept called team psychological safety.

Amy Edmondson at Harvard University defines it as a commonly understood taken for granted belief that the team is a safe place for interpersonal risk-taking.

She found that when team members feel psychologically safe, then they engage in team learning behaviour such as seeking feedback, discussing errors, looking for information and feedback from customers and other stakeholders.

The team behaviours directly lead to higher team performance whereby customer needs and expectations are satisfied at a higher rate.

Interestingly, team psychological safety trumps team efficacy in creating desirable team behaviour and outcomes. Team efficacy is when a team feels capable, confident, and sure of performing. But without safety, team confidence proves useless.

Not all leaders know how to impart environments that foster team psychological safety.

Leaders must receive organisational support through coaching and institutional logistical assistance. On a personal level, leaders cannot hold grudges or follow their persistent gut feeling.

A manager must assume that team members bring forth ideas for the betterment of the group and not twist around the meaning of every bit of feedback and opinion to hold ulterior motives.

Leaders therefore must trust their employees’ intentions in order for them to then lay down proper frameworks to enhance tam psychological safety.

Dr Scott Bellows is an Assistant Professor of Management at United States International University - Africa.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.