Psychological safety has been shown to be the most important driver of team success and essential to innovation. Research findings are clear: you could hire the best talent in the world, but if team members aren’t at ease with one another—if they’re afraid to speak up, not comfortable showing who they really are, or hesitant about asking questions and raising concerns—the team simply won’t thrive.
Psychological safety isn’t easy to build and maintain, but it is possible—and necessary. Here are some tips for building psychological safety in remote teams.
1. Make it safe to fail
Put it on your Code of Conduct, your Values doc, or your list of Guiding Principles: it’s okay to fail, as long as you learn from the experience. Hold blameless Post Mortems to discuss “fails” and lessons learned. Encourage employees to take risks based on good information (and make good information accessible to them). Never criticize anyone for doing their best given the information they had at the time. Whenever possible, use technology to make it safer to fail.
2. Give everyone a voice
Create a process that ensures everyone gets a chance to speak (and an equal amount of airtime) in meetings. When someone speaks up, reward them. Use surveys, polls, and Zoom’s non-verbal feedback and reaction features to give even the shyest employees a chance to participate.
3. Bring people together
Create opportunities for employees to bond with one another. Bring them together through company retreats (in-person or virtual); virtual coffee dates; or a watercooler channel on Slack. Support teammates who want to build communities around a shared identity by providing them with all the resources and the help they need to succeed.
4. When something’s wrong, talk about it
Let employees know that leadership welcomes feedback and embraces difficult conversations. Create specific meetings or channels for the purpose of processing tensions. (At Slack, employees have use the Slack channel #beef-tweets to air grievances about their own product.) Train managers to listen to feedback, celebrate diverse perspectives, and push back when witnessing behavior that could cause a teammate to feel psychologically unsafe.
5. Tell employees what to do if they feel unsafe
Ensure there are policies in place to protect employees and someone they can turn to if they need to discuss their feelings or report inappropriate behavior. Educate new hires about these policies/processes during onboarding.
Psychological safety makes teams thrive
Psychological safety isn’t a given—not even in physical offices. There are multiple reasons (historical, political, economic etc.) why employees might not feel psychologically safe at work. Companies that want to reap the benefits of great teamwork must find ways to encourage authenticity and vulnerability within teams.
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