Is this the key to a high-performing, inclusive team?

Article3 min06 October 2020By Melissa Gerke

With restrictions easing across most of the country, workers are slowly emerging from their forced hibernation to face the real world again. For some, the transition back to society is more than welcome. But for others, returning to face to face interactions may be felt with a tinge of trepidation. 

Workplaces can be environments of great diversity. People of different race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic status meet daily on the same playing field to get the job done. Yet, workers can also bring with them their own insecurities and preconceived notions about others. Creating an environment that’s supportive, nurturing and inclusive, rather than of fear and division, is called psychological safety. 

Amy Edmonson coined the term ‘psychological safety’ way back in the pre-digital world of 1999. Today this concept is more relevant than ever. Psychologically safe environments have an ingrained culture of trust, mutual respect and confidence in team members’ abilities. 

Psychological safety is more than just a nice idea. A diversity of opinions is good for business.

"It’s easier to collaborate and provide useful feedback when there’s a culture of psychological safety,"

Therese Lardner Mindset Coaching and Consulting
A culture of psychological safety

In a psychologically safe working environment, employees don’t think twice about sticking their neck out. 

Employee differences, be it cultural, sexual or religious, are embraced as an asset to the workforce. Workers don’t fear being judged due to their differences, so can speak freely without fear of backlash.

“It’s easier to collaborate and provide useful feedback when there’s a culture of psychological safety,” says corporate psychologist Therese Lardner, founder of Mindset Coaching and Consulting.

“The safer we feel, the more we can contribute to debates around how tasks and projects are completed and speak up when there are issues with integrity or governance.”

As Edmonson found in her research, psychologically unsafe environments have workers who appear to have similar ideas. Employees and managers feel they can’t question the decisions of their superiors, so they just go with the flow instead. This may sound like a calm and agreeable place to work, but it’s far from a thriving and dynamic workspace.

In the end, it’s the business that suffers.

Dexus celebrating Wear It Purple Day, organised by its TRIBE Network

Creating a psychologically safe workplace

Psychologically safe workplaces don’t just happen by themselves. Changing the culture of a workforce means sometimes challenging ingrained beliefs, resulting in workers supporting the initiative or even moving on. 

Creating such a workplace takes more than a PowerPoint presentation. 

Educating a workforce on the acceptance of others can’t be solely preached by executive management. So, employees are also encouraged to promote psychologically safe initiatives amongst their peers.

A good example of this is a new initiative started at Dexus, called TRIBE, an employee-led forum that supports LGBTI+ inclusion in the workplace. TRIBE’s membership base includes those who identify or are an ally of the LGBTI+ community. 

Over a short period of time, TRIBE has grown its membership to more than 115, both from employees who identify or are allies of the LGBTI+ community. 

In a company with just over 500 employees, that’s a large representation, which indicates just how important people feel about being accepted for who they are.

Brooke Shaw, Senior Manager of Organisational Development at Dexus, said the company has seen a broad range of benefits from TRIBE. 

“We partner with Pride in Diversity, and part of that partnership has been upskilling both the TRIBE community and our TRIBE network on the benefits of inclusion and the benefits of psychological safety in the workplace for those that identify.

“This is something we saw an opening for, where we could make progress on, and we’re really pleased with the results we’ve seen,” she said.

The benefits to the business

Another company which placed a high value on psychological safety is the global tech group, Cisco. 

One of their six core values is 'We respect and care for each other'. 

During the pandemic, the company encouraged all employees to have a say on responding to the crisis. Cisco encourages a diversity of ideas, resulting in employees speaking highly of the company. This, in turn, attracts and retains the best workers.

Fast-paced workplaces experience a lot of change. When employees and managers feel psychologically safe, they’re willing to take risks to drive performance together. The business fosters trust and respect and is a happy and rewarding environment.

“People will engage in moderate levels of risk-taking; they’ll share ideas and engage in constructive critique. They’ll also engage in more critical thinking, analyse problems, and raise concerns without fear of being reprimanded. All things that are key to high performing teams,” says Shaw.

“We’ve seen an increase in engagement level and loyalty; people perform better if they can be themselves,” she says. 

Collaboration can only successfully occur in respectful, trusting workplaces. When a team can freely discuss issues, a business can thrive. 

Employees feel valued and are engaged when they’re respected. They speak highly of their workplace, which attracts highly skilled people. Employee retention rates are higher, and stress leave lower. It’s a win-win for all.

Read on for more insights

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