Psychological safety is a shared belief among the team that they are in a safe environment to take risks. As such, the main barriers to establishing psychological safety are value incongruence and trust in the team. Trust allows us to take risks in the absence of control, and value congruence allows us to more accurately interpret the behaviours and actions of others. If our values are aligned, and we can trust our fellow team members, we can operate under conditions of relative psychological safety. However, the current pandemic which has forced a disseminated and virtual work environment, poses a threat not only to establishing psychological safety, but to maintaining it as well. With limited interactions, both in scope and time, it becomes harder to interpret other’s intentions and behaviours, and to seek validation or refutation of our own interpretations. This leaves much room for non-shared beliefs. To address this, we must first understand the importance of establishing and maintaining psychological safety. We need to be clear in our communications, with awareness of our own limitations. We should set out clear goals, timelines and tasks with a shared understanding of how we, as a team, can go about achieving these. Some practical ways of establishing a level of ‘sharedness’ is shifting from ‘I’ to ‘we’, showing vulnerability, asking and offering help when needed, and being present and visible in those limited interactions that we do manage to organise virtually.
In our research with healthcare teams, we identified the significant importance of psychological safety to produce effective teams. The team member’s view that his/her contribution is valued, serves both to motivate the individual and help to recognize the value of others within the team. This atmosphere of trust and mutual respect [within teams] creates an environment that allows for improved team learning and problem solving, which directly enhances team performance.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a tremendous effect on the healthcare sector in South Africa and along with this, new knowledge and routines have to be adopted. New knowledge includes incorporating patterns of interaction and applying successful solutions to [particular] problems – often over short periods. Healthcare teams tasked with adapting these challenges to their local context, will require ample psychological safety.
Using team-based games, we found strong support that practical interventions can increase the psychological safety within teams. With simple, cost-effective interventions, team members become aware of the value that their work-related observations could contribute to the immediate surroundings. This may greatly improve the creativity and innovation within a work group, placing the team in a position to best assist in managing unforeseen challenges. When the working environment is safe for inter-personal risk taking, the benefit to the individual, team and health organization is clear.
I believe you need the following to create safety in any environment:
If we start treating people the way they want to be treated and not how we think they should be treated, then we will create a team that will feel heard without retribution.