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Psychological Safety Hybrid Team

How To Create ‘Psychological Safety’ On a Hybrid Team

  • Thursday April 22, 2021
  • Employee Experience   
  • Organizational Culture   

Are you familiar with the term “psychological safety?” This term was first coined and used by a group of psychologists in the mid-2000s. About a decade later, “team psychological safety” came about and made a huge change in how we understand the psychology and safety of groups at work.


So what is team psychological safety at work? It’s best known as an environment where each member of a team feels free and comfortable to be themselves. It defines a climate where people know they can try new things and take risks without worrying about consequences.


Psychological safety means knowing that there will be no humiliation or punishments for bringing up ideas, concerns, or questions. It’s a workplace where mistakes aren’t something to avoid but simply a way to learn new things and move toward ultimate success.


Studies have demonstrated that team psychological safety is a central driver of team performance. 


Establishing a climate of safety and supportiveness has never been easy. Hybrid work will require managers to invest extra effort in rethinking and expanding psychological safety.


As Harvard Business Review explains it, managers have traditionally focused on enabling candor with respect to work content. With the transition to Hybrid, as the boundary between work and life becomes blurry, leaders must make scheduling and coordination decisions that take into account personal circumstances — a categorically different domain.


In a Hybrid workplace, leaders must create an environment that encourages employees to share aspects of their personal situations as relevant to their work scheduling and/or trust employees to make the right choices, balanced against personal and team needs.    


The Difference Hybrid Work Creates for Psychological Safety


In a hybrid team environment, creating psychological safety at work requires additional effort than in a traditional office. The Harvard Business Review explains that leaders have typically focused on enabling communication only with work content. In a hybrid team, work and life have blurry boundaries. As such, leaders need to ensure personal circumstances are considered regarding coordination and scheduling – which is new.


Hybrid workplaces must have leaders who encourage workers to share details about their personal life as is relevant for scheduling. On the other hand, employees need to be trusted to make the best choices when the team and personal needs conflict.


HBR Recommends a Five-Step Approach for Leaders


The Harvard Business Review recommends a five-step approach for leaders. This is a great method to use for leaders of hybrid teams who want to reap the benefits of a psychologically safe group of workers. The good news is that these steps are simple and can be taken one at a time to create an environment everyone wants to work in.


  1. Set the Scene The first step in the process is bringing together the entire team. Everyone should be present for this discussion so each person can bring up their thoughts. The point of this meeting is to learn about the challenges within the team and even individual employees. At the same time, the leader can share their challenges and how those affect them.
  2. Lead the Way Not everyone is going to be open to talking about their challenges. Someone has to step up and be the first who admits to their worries and vulnerabilities in a hybrid or work-from-home environment. As the leader, this is going to fall to you. When you open up and explain your personal constraints and challenges, the other employees will be more likely to do the same.
  3. Take Baby Steps You don’t have to open up about everything right at the start. Begin with a single small disclosure and then allow the rest of the team to do the same. You can continue this cycle as more people jump in and feel comfortable admitting the challenges they experience. It shows team members that sharing is safe for them to do.
  4. Share Positive ExamplesShow some examples to put the team at ease. Let them know that you’re sure transparency is increasing and how you see that in the team. Make sure to reassure them that this conversation helps design the most effective work arrangements for each person who is on the team.
  5. Be a WatchdogMake sure to pay attention to what people are saying and doing that could hurt others on the team. For instance, the comment “we wish we saw more of you” might seem innocent. But if you dip deeper, you’ll see how comments like this one can make those who aren’t at the office as much feel as if they are letting down the others on the team.


We really liked this excellent HBR piece as it recommends a practical approach to solving one of the new managerial challenges arising from Hybrid work.


Psychological Safety Starts from the Top


The only way for psychological safety at work to become a foundation of a workplace is if the leaders put it into place. Leaders are the catalyst toward changes that create better psychological safety. When employees feel comfortable making suggestions without fear, it can help to create innovation, build a workplace of diversity, and ensure a team adapts to change.


Leaders can create psychological safety at work by building the appropriate behaviors, mindsets, and climates for their teams. Role modeling and reinforcing the behaviors you desire is the best way to see them flourish among the workers.


Creating a positive team climate is one method to do this. When leaders set a positive tone through what they say and do, others will follow. This is especially useful in times of disruption. Research from McKinsey indicates that a positive team climate has a large effect on psychological safety at work in teams experiencing large amounts of change than those with little change. 


Challenging leadership is another method to create change, but only in a positive climate. Challenging leaders are those who have employees reexamine their thoughts about their work and how to perform it to beat expectations and unlock a worker’s potential. These leaders have been shown to help employees seek improvement and learning, feel more empowered during changes, and be more likely to work creatively.


Psychological safety at work is important for all teams, but hybrid groups have their own struggles. The tips in this article will give you insight that can ensure every worker feels safe and is more likely to be productive and innovative throughout the course of the workday.


Teamraderie virtual experiences are designed to cultivate emotional trust, inclusion and cohesion in teams. You can reach out to us at team@teamraderie.com or visit our experience finder if you would like to learn more.  


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