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Updated on: Tuesday, January 11, 2022, 08:22 PM IST

Psychological Safety has become a need of the hour at workplace: Prof Himanshu Rai, Director, IIM Indore

Psychological Safety at the workplace forms the very foundation of authenticity, openness, and inclusivity in the organisational culture
Prof Himanshu Rai |

Prof Himanshu Rai |

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The present ‘office’ circumstances have presented leaders with an opportunity in disguise to think and reinvent the safety policies in their organisations to make them holistic and inclusive, focusing not only on the physical but also on psychological aspects of safety.

One such intervention, which is an excellent tool for team building and performance enhancement of employees, is what behavioural scientists popularly recognise as the concept of Psychological Safety.

Psychological Safety is defined as an individual’s conviction that he/she would not be rebuffed, punished, or embarrassed for openly expressing his/her genuine ideas, concerns, queries, or errors. The construct was developed and defined by Professor Amy Edmondson, a Professor of Leadership and Management at the coveted Harvard Business Schools, who is also well known for her exemplary work on teams. Amy suggests that groups and teams, where the members perceive that they can openly discuss their questions, doubts, share ideas and admit errors, and even express their disagreement over issues, eventually become the teams with enhanced performance and a higher individual contribution.

Psychological safety at the workplace forms the very foundation of authenticity, openness, and inclusivity in the organisational culture and it has become vital now more than ever before, owing to the limited contact and support among virtual teams working remotely.

In his book, “The 4 Stages of psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation”, the author, Timothy R. Clark, explains that a climate of Psychological Safety can be created in four successive phases. The first stage is to make the employees feel included. This can be ensured by involving the employees in the decision-making process for decisions directly affecting their team or function. The next stage focuses on making the employees. In the third stage, the employees are motivated and feel safe to share their unique perspectives on things and new ideas, without being scared of being judged as bizarre or illogical. This is the stage where the scope for innovation is expanded. It can be accomplished through reflective listening and proactive questioning by the team leaders. The final stage, which is usually the most difficult to achieve, is the position where employees fearlessly question shortcomings and limitations in the existing system and challenge the status quo. Leaders need to acknowledge the need for continuous improvement, letting go of their affinity and attachment towards the established systems and processes.

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A few key leadership behaviours:

1. Promote Open Communication: Prompt and stimulate employees to openly communicate their feelings and opinions about issues at work. Encourage professional as well as personal conversations.

2. Redefine challenging tasks as learning problems: This will create an impression that the task requires employees to think out-of-the-box and come out of their comfort zone and thus they need to open up. Attribute success of the team to the ability of the team members to share knowledge effectively, during reward and recognition practices.

3. Acknowledge that even seemingly fair and well-established systems are fallible and encourage sharing of mistakes among team members rather than supporting the politics of shifting blames.

4. Take cognisance of the fact that mistakes are not always linked to poor performance. A lot of other associated factors are involved in a success or a failure.

5. Stimulate curiosity and promote the habit of reflecting the purpose and morale behind every endeavour among the team members.

It should however be noted that enhancing Psychological Safety should not be done by compromising on accountability, relevance, and legitimacy of the ideas and opinions being shared or of their outcomes. Psychological Safety and Responsibility must go hand in hand.

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Published on: Wednesday, January 12, 2022, 07:00 AM IST
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