What is Psychological Safety?

Episode Transcript

Julia Landauer 0:04 Hello, everybody and welcome back to another episode of if I'm honest with Julia Landauer. Happy Wednesday, I got to spend last weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway for the NASCAR All Star race weekend where they had the NASCAR truck series and the NASCAR Cup Series competing. And North Wilkesboro Speedway has a lot of historical significance. It's one of those traditional old school racetracks, it got revamped and almost brought back from the dead to be able to host this this all star race. They do other, more grassroots level racing throughout the year. And it's a really fun exhibition race. There are no points for it, but they have a pit crew challenge. And they do interesting qualifying formats, and they have a fun race. I was there for Friday and Saturday. And on Saturday, they had the most torrential rain in that you could even imagine I mean, we had at least four or five inches in the span of two hours. To track lost power, the generator went out, the track is on a bit of a slope. And so turn one and two are lower than turns three and four. And so the cars that were on pit lane because we had to stop the race for the trucks about halfway through because it started raining. And the trucks that were pitted further down towards turn one, we're starting to get submerged in water and it wasn't submerged. Sorry, the the water was rising, and it was getting too high that it was going to impact the electronics and the motor and different parts of the vehicles. And so they had to move the trucks back out of the water. And if you think about a pit lane, on a race track, there's a two or so foot high wall or three foot high wall that separates the hot pit from the cold pit. And the water was up to that wall. That is how high it was down in terms one and two because of the drainage system that they had and how much water was coming down. And the fact that it was sloped, so it was wild. And I was in the officiating tower for this. And let me tell you, it was so impressive to see the NASCAR officials handle this very adverse situation. There were a lot of discussions about how to best handle it what we had to do when we made the call, we were constantly evaluating all of the different circumstantial things like the weather and lightning and what the facility rules were and how many people we had involved in what the scenarios would be if we had to postpone what were the pros, what were the cons, there was just so much that was contemplated and considered. And any any decision to either delay or postpone would have really significant consequences because fans pay money to be at the track teams and drivers work really hard to get themselves and their equipment ready for the race. And there are timing issues, and we have the surrounding area. And then there are broadcast obligation. So there's so much that's being considered. And I just have a really new appreciation for how calm, cool and collected. The officials have to be how collaborative they are, and how much it's an environment where people are encouraged to speak up. And that leads me nicely into the topic for today's episode, which is psychological safety. Now, I had not heard this term before this past week, because I gave a virtual keynote last week in the evening. And in that keynote, I had discussed teamwork and leadership and managing fear. And one of the audience members questions after I was done was whether I use psychological safety concepts when approaching working with a team and this problem solving. And I had to be honest with them that I did not know that term and that I was going to go look it up. So I decided to make an episode out of it. psychological safety means feeling safe to take interpersonal risks, to speak up to openly disagree with the people around you to give feedback and to admit mistakes without fear of negative repercussions or consequences. And so this is obviously really important for team dynamic. It's important for personal development and experimenting and overall success of any projects that any group of people are working on. And according to a Harvard Business Review article, which I will link in the description, Amy Edmondson coined the term, quote, Team psychological safety quote, when she was researching the relationship between error making and teamwork in hospitals back in the late 1990s. And when she was doing this research, she expected to find that more effective teams made fewer mistakes throughout their working process. But what she actually found is that teams who reported better teamwork dynamics actually also reported more mistakes. And when she was thinking about it, she concluded that it was probably because these teams felt more secure in their working environment. And they felt more confident in their team's ability to recognize that it's a learning experience, and then to recover from them and move on and to be supportive of that whole process. This makes sense to me. Back in Stanford, I took a class called Fail Faster. And the premise of this class was that when problem solving or when trying to develop something new, you have to be comfortable with ideating. And coming up with a bunch of ideas, testing quickly. And then if it doesn't work, moving on right away. And I think that was a general ethos for entrepreneurship and in the Bay Area. And it's also something that's really relevant in racing, because when you are out on track, and let's say you're trying to make the car better during practice, and it's doing something on turnin. And so you go and you debrief, and you have to make a change. And maybe that training, change is going to work. And maybe it's not, and maybe you have to go through several iterations of changes, or several different types of changes to the equipment, but then also the driver to try to get to that, that working rhythm where it's feeling really good. So the whole process of deep experimentation and constant iterations is really relevant in a lot of different fields. And that means that psychological safety becomes really, really important for team dynamics to be able to have a competitive advantage and get to that good result quicker. And so for a few other reasons that psychological safety is important when it comes to any team dynamic is that first, it helps team members feel more engaged and motivated, because they feel that they're being considered that their thoughts are important that it's a safe space where they can bring ideas to the table. And if they feel like they're being listened to, and being taken seriously, anyone's going to feel more engaged in that kind of environment. Another reason that psychological safety is important, is because he can actually help in better decision making. And I think this is largely due to the fact that if you're comfortable voicing your opinions, and debating and not feeling like you're being personally attacked for having a different point of view, or maybe a wrong point of view, it makes more and more people comfortable doing that, which means you're going to have more diverse perspectives, and more diverse perspectives typically lead to better problem solving. And so that will help a team make better decisions. The last big important reason for having psychological safety in your teamwork dynamics, is it is because it contributes to an environment of continuous learning and improvement. And if life is not about learning, then I don't know what it's for. Because we are constantly evolving, improving our surroundings are constantly changing, the way the world works is always changing. And so being comfortable with adapting and iterating. And experimenting becomes critical for any type of success. Moral of this first part of the story of psychological safety is that the more psychologically safe people feel on a team, the more likely they are to perform in an engaged and successful manner and the better the team is going to do. Now, as a corporate girlie who is in a corporate role, I'm now also thinking about the other half of that equation, which is how can leaders and managers and executives at companies or just team leaders in general, how can they help make teams feel that they are psychologically safe? There's an article from McKinsey that I read, which I'll also link that actually states that social scientists believe that psychological safety is a prerequisite for people to live their best, just like in Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs. So this idea of psychological safety is so fundamental to people being able to operate on a great level, there are three prongs to the type of leadership styles that McKinsey suggests could be used to help create this environment of psychological safety. And the first is consultative leadership. So this is where leaders go to all the other members of a team and discuss their ideas, ask for feedback, ask for their thoughts, give their own thoughts, and really have that two way communication regardless of what level anyone's at. And this shows that the leader wants to collaborate with everyone else, that it is a safe space that no one is above anyone else in terms of their thought process or their ideas. And that can help people feel secure in exploring their own ideas and challenging the status quo. The second type of leadership is supportive leadership, and that is giving people what they need and the added help and resources to be able to make decisions, experiment, support if they need to learn from mistakes, any number of things that help show that you are there to to aid the people who are working with you. And this can again lead to feeling more secure on your team. And doing both of those types of leadership, consultative and supportive, mean that you can then implement challenging leadership. And this is exactly what it sounds like, which is really pushing the people that you're working with, to think about their ideas to assess to push outside of the box to maybe tell them that they're wrong, or to tell them that that might not work or to walk, walk through why they might need to go in a different direction. But to because you've done the consultative and supportive leadership, the people that you're working with, should know on a deep level that just because their idea is being challenged or might not be right, doesn't mean it was bad. It's a step in the process of getting to the final answers that you need in order to have the success that you're looking for. I know that a lot of this is sounding a little more vague. But in thinking about how this could relate to any team that you're working on, I'm trying to keep it as vague as possible, because it really is super applicable, whether you are a restaurant manager, or you are at a fortune 500 company, or you're on a race team, or you're a teacher in a classroom, I think this idea of psychological safety, and the different ways that you can lead are really, really valuable. To go back to my audience members question on if I use psychological safety on my teams? The answer has to be yes, I unknowingly implemented some of these strategies. But when I look back after doing this initial reading on psychological safety, I think that was innate to how I interacted with a lot of my team members. You know, when I joined a team, I have always told the folks on my team from the start that I want feedback from them, I want them to tell me if they see something I can do to improve if there's something that they need, in a working style that I can better help to let me know. And then I also want to feel free to give them feedback if I need something different from them. And to approach both of those giving feedback and receiving feedback in equal ways, I think proves just how committed you are to working through problems and trying to get to that common goal that we're all going for. I also always ask a lot of questions. And regardless if they would be perceived as silly or not, I would ask them because I really wanted definitive answers. And I would have to assume that me asking a wide range of questions probably helped other people feel more comfortable in asking questions as well. The last thing that I've noticed on not only teams that I've been on, but team owners that I've met, or other teams that I've seen in racing, is that there's a really big, very vocal focus on looking forward and moving forward and improving. You know, you're only as good as your last race. And so you constantly need to be proving yourself. There was a team that has a slogan on the wall. We're either winning or we're learning. You know, there's this can do proactive attitude to a lot of teams because you're constantly having to prove yourself and evolve and adapt and try to go win the race. And the more secure people feel in their working environment, the better they are to perform. All this being said, I do think there has to be a culture of accountability. I think that you need to learn from your mistakes, you need to take responsibility. But all of that is easier to do if you feel psychologically safe. Everyone that is our episode, thank you to my speaking client and the audience member who brought up this topic that I otherwise had not heard about really excited to learn about this new concept. If you enjoyed this episode, I hope that you will share it with someone who you think might also want to learn a bit about psychological safety and maybe a leader in your life, someone who's trying to shape how a group works. I do hope that you'll rate the podcasts, leave a review, share it with people that you care about. And as always, thank you for letting me be honest with you and I look forward to seeing you next week.