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Building a Psychologically Safe Workplace during times of Constant Change

Change is tough on people. We are creatures of habit and change brings unknown territory, which can be unsettling, draining and can impact motivation in a big way. Having to adapt to a constantly changing picture can be exhausting, and so it stands to reasons that the many changes we are experiencing right now is having a huge impact on team morale and mood.

Although we, as Leaders, have little control over external social situations, we can influence the Psychology Safety felt within our teams. That is, we can encourage and foster a comfortable setting in which our teams will feel more grounded, which will be rewarded in their productivity, efficiency and increased morale. In doing this, we can help our team adapt and cope with the changes we face.

Research, conducted by Google, shows that Psychological Safety is key to having a successful, thriving, positive team.

Psychology Safety is feeling secure and safe enough to show your true self. A psychologically safe team is one where members feel respected and accepted.

Timothy R. Clarke defines psychological safety as "a condition in which human beings feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo – all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way." (Clark, 2020).

Therefore, we can nurture the team as a whole, by nourishing the individual parts.

When a team feels psychologically safe, they are able to focus & excel on the mission, rather than allowing individual insecurities to intervene. Focus is on the tasks in hand, rather than the dynamics at play, the internal struggles for attention, the self-doubt or the insecurities.

...and don't forget, by building others up, we boost our own wellbeing.

Positive acts breed positive feelings! Expressing gratitude makes us feel good, the benefits of good wellbeing practices are ten-fold, so don't hold back.

How do we harvest this culture within our teams?

It takes continuous effort to build, maintain and encourage a teams morale and motivation, but there are habits we can adopt. It isn't always easy, but the attempts to nurture positivity will not go unnoticed, whether successful or not.

It is our responsibility to create an environment of fairness, to encourage individualism, proactively accept outspoken contributions that push the norm, and embrace diversity and inclusion.

Offer truthful and specific praise, appreciation and feedback.

Recognising and appreciating good work, or indeed effort, during times of challenge will help build resilience and will strengthen an individuals confidence and pride. Never underestimate the power of praise, especially during "tough times". Working in a virtual way makes this more of a challenge, but it is more necessary to keep your team connected.

Having regular feedback scheduled, delivered in a structured way, will give confidence and will provide routine against the changing social situations. Try the following structure:

  • 10 minutes for “life” items to catch up personally—this is especially important now, in the days of COVID-19 to prevent isolation.

  • 10 minutes for your employee to update you on what they have accomplished over the past week, and what hurdles they experienced or they anticipate happening.

  • 10 minutes for you to give feedback, redirect efforts, or add new projects or tasks to your employee’s list.

Adopting this approach will help nurture your team members involvement in the company, will give them confidence that they are an active member, will give them routine in an ever changing picture and will help you to firefight before the issue becomes a blaze. Remember "Coach as you go, so problems don't grow!".

Active Listening in a Virtual World.

Show that you value their contribution through active listening. Give them undivided attention, and actively listen, process and respond to what you are being told. Paraphrase back without judgement or bias, showing verbal and non-verbal signs that you are involved in the discussion.

Active listening is a positive way of engaging with others. It demonstrates that you value what is being said, you value the speaker, you are interested in the discussion, and goes a long way to building trust and respect.

Its also important that we practice active listening when communicating virtually also. I would argue more important in present times, when staff are feeling isolated and disconnected.

Use positive non-verbal communication when on video calls - give your full attention, smile and nod appropriately. This will let your audience know you are very much with them and what they are telling you. You can also use arched eyebrows to signal silently when someone makes a good point. Close down all other distractions.

Consider Learning as a deliverable in every task

An attitude which values learning as a deliverable in every task will encourage your team to speak out, to volunteer opinion and solutions, which will encourage others to do the same. A team that feels their opinion is valued will be motivated to find more efficient ways of working, and will feel connected to the business mission.

By appreciating the mix of skills within your team, you can also optimise working efficiency - get to know the team and their individual strengths, and make sure your team knows each other too. This way, the most appropriate member will be allocated the most appropriate task - optimising productivity and efficiency, as well as boosting confidence and morale.

Acknowledge your own mistakes

You are only human. No one is infallible, and as a leader, you need to set the standard. If you make a mistake, and it will happen, own it. Acknowledge it, accept it, and rectify it. By admitting to your own mistakes, you will be harvesting a culture where mistakes are a) acceptable and b) taken responsibility for. You will set the scene for a transparent and candid working environment.

Emphasis Purpose

Having a team that feels positive and strong but is without motivation will not succeed. Make sure your team have goals, and they know why the goal is in place. Be clear and transparent about the background to missions and tasks. Explain why you want to achieve this goal, what their role is in achieving it and highlight their importance. Tell you team what's at stake - share the burden. This will align your team with the company mission, it will hammer down their importance to the company, reinforcing their feeling of belonging, and will spark ownership of problems and challenges, creating a team effort to avoid and/or solve any issues that do arise. It will also encourage the team to work together for the greater good.

Stay Kind, Stay Patient, Stay Calm

Working today can be a challenge in itself. We are working from home, many of us for the first time. We are surrounded by family, some of us small children, who bring their own challenges. This way of working can bring feeling unexpected; can leave us feeling disconnected. Not being in the office means we aren't always privy to conversations going on around us, so we are missing on those valuable information tidbits that add to our company knowledge. Support mechanisms aren't quite so readily available.

As leaders, we must ensure our teams feel connect. Encouraging communication is key. Don't just rely on video conferencing - pick up the phone. A friendly voice call can make a huge difference to someone's day.

When you do talk to teams, don't make it all business - you may be the only person they speak to all day.

Appreciate that others have families - partners trying to work in the same space, children around us, household responsibilities that can intervene.

Practice kindness and understanding. Be approachable. Understand that, not everyone can adapt to new environments quickly, not everyone is technically minded to manage the IT required....we all face different challenges with this new way of working. Treat others as you want to be treated.

Psychology Safety can be a valuable strategy to help our teams through these times of continuous change. These are unchartered waters, and we need to adopt a positive and effective method of leading our teams, that will help raise morale when times are hard.

Remember - positivity breeds positivity. Look after each other, and yourself, by embracing good wellbeing practices, and stay safe!


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