What Psychological Safety looks like in a Hybrid Workplace

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Safety? Empathy? Comedy? To build thriving hybrid teams, leaders must create psychological safety, demonstrate empathy, and have a sense of humor. Discover what psychological safety looks like in a Hybrid Workplace.

Today we interview returning guest and author of The Human Edge, Greg Orme. Greg teaches us what we need to know about psychological safety in the hybrid environment so we can Team Anywhere.

What is Psychological Safety

Psychological Safety is the foundation of any high-performance team. This is known to be one of the biggest ideas in leadership and teams over the last 15 years. Psychological Safety creates a culture where team members feel safe speaking up on a team and gets equal time speaking.

Many people misinterpret “psychological safety” because a lot of people think about it as just a safe environment. But Psychological Safety is specifically the feeling that it’s safe for me to take an interpersonal risk. Additionally, Psychological Safety creates a space where it is okay for me to speak up, challenge, ask questions, and make myself vulnerable–without judgment. As a result, a Psychologically Safe environment is where people can express themselves and even have creative conflict to disagree with each other. This requires high levels of empathy and authenticity on the team.

How to Tell If there Is Psychological Safety

When there is Psychological Safety on a team a risky issue surfaces and team members freely oppose it.  Team members challenge each other, disagree, move toward an outcome, and then act upon it. Teams that lack Psychological Safety will not fully consider disagreements.

As you get to know your team, you get to know their opinions pretty well. As a team member, you can see that a person’s silence can be a clear sign of discomfort. To encourage psychological safety, it is wise to encourage them to share their thoughts.

Disclaimer: This works well on teams that have already established strong Psychological Safety. If your team does not have strong Psychological Safety, the team member will likely share a “politically correct” response. Building a strong foundation of psychological safety needs to happen first to begin having strong discussions with competing opinions. This gives the team permission to be vulnerable and work through the issue.

Leading with Psychological Safety

Many leaders have a misperception that psychological safety has more to do with the team than the leader. These leaders don’t think they they have a role in creating Psychological Safety and will go as far as hiring experts to create it on their teams.

But the truth is that when it comes to Psychological Safety, the leader goes first. The leader has to be vulnerable first. One of the first actions you can take as a leader to start building Psychological Safety is share something about your personal life that shows authenticity and human-ness. Once you begin to show a little vulnerability, it sets the stage for others to begin to open up. 

What Psychological Safety Looks Like in a Hybrid Workplace

Creating Psychological Safety is easier to establish with an outside facilitator because it initially takes a lot of groundwork.

Psychological Safety Exercises

One exercise that teams can do to help build Psychological Safety is an activity Greg calls Lifelines. In this exercise, everyone does a time plot detailing the ups and downs of their life and then they share one story from their Lifeline with their team. 

By doing this, you’ve effectively broadened people’s frame of reference to what is allowable in the environment. Also, by encouraging them to tell a story, you begin to see a more human side of the people that you work with. One of the biggest pitfalls teams can make is seeing their team members only by what they do at work, and not for who they are inside and outside of work. 

Hybrid Team Members are Authentic

Authenticity is an essential element to creating psychological safety at work, but many of us have not been raised with the skills required to be fully authentic. Authenticity was not a subject we were taught in school. Instead, we were mostly taught to sit back and comply. Then, as we enter the workforce, we experience poor leaders who don’t support us in being authentic by saying things like, “I don’t care what you think/feel.” 

From a psychological perspective, this comes from our primitive origins. Our brains were designed to do well in a tribe and to seek safety even if it meant denying what we think or feel. 

Although this might have been a great survival strategy in our primitive days, it actually doesn’t serve the workplace at all. When we are ourselves in the workplace, we have the ability to take appropriate risks that help spark innovation and take collaboration at new levels.

Hybrid Team Members are Empathetic

To strengthen psychological safety on your team, team members need to practice being more empathetic. You can tell someone is being empathetic by observing them. They are not talking. Rather, they are demonstrating a heightened level of listening and understanding. To be empathetic means that you are walking in the emotional shoes of another person. This requires intense listening.  

Diversity makes a greater call for empathy because team members need to empathize with people who are not the same race, gender, sexuality, nationality or upbringing. Team members need to strengthen their empathy muscles–both face-to-face and across virtual space–to connect beyond diverse backgrounds. Fortunately, empathy is not a fixed trait and can be continually improved.  

Empathy at Work

In order for teams to build more empathy at work, Greg challenges everyone to have one conversation a day where they don’t solve a problem for the other person. Have a conversation where you are simply curious about that person. Do this by asking questions and responding to what you hear. On the one hand, this sounds ridiculously simple. On the other hand, it is not our habitual way of interacting and requires mindfulness to strengthen that new pathway. 

Another recommendation to build empathy at work is to read more fiction books. When you really get into a book or movie, you are empathizing with the characters as you walk in their emotional shoes. 

Team Members Embrace Humor

Another tactic for building psychological safety is using humor in strategic ways. Humor is underused in business. A leader that uses humor–well and in the right way–cuts through somber moods and directs energy towards a common experience. Since we are facing a tsunami of information every day, we become overwhelmed by all the noise. Effective leaders and team members can find a way to cut through the noise through humor and get people to engage and connect.

Studies show that bosses who bring a bit of fun into work are considered to be twice as effective as those who are serious all of the time. Humor at work creates outcomes in terms of resiliency, creativity, and collaboration.

About Greg Orme

Greg is a speaker, award-winning author and facilitator who’s delivered more than 400 talks to executive audiences around the world. 

He helps leaders thrive in a world of accelerating change through creative-thinking, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. 

His book The Human Edge, How Curiosity and Creativity are Your Superpowers in the Digital Economy (Pearson), was named as the Business Book of The Year 2020 and is being translated into Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean.  

Greg was the founding CEO of London Business School’s Centre for Creative Business. He now leads organisational change programmes with global clients in banking & insurance, automotive, FMCG, manufacturing and technology. 

To learn more about what psychological safety looks like in the hybrid workplace, download this episode now.

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Online Courses for Leaders Leading a Team From Anywhere:

Check out these online courses for remote leaders from the Team Anywhere Team.

How to Be an Effective Remote Manager | How to Build Virtual Accountability

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