Three tips for psychological safety
‘Imagine walking into a meeting and immediately feeling insecure when you see the people there. This lack of psychological safety impedes progress,’ says NHH PhD student Bård Fyhn, who is competing in Forsker Grand Prix.
On 25 September, Bård Fyhn is taking part in the dissemination competition Forsker Grand Prix. Here, he will present his research on psychological safety. Alongside nine other PhD students in Bergen, he will try to engage the audience and the judges in just four minutes. After the introductory round, three of them move on to the final round. The two best researchers move on to the national finals in Stavanger on 28 September.
Fyhn is a research fellow at the Department of Strategy and Management. He has a business economics degree from NHH, has attended the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, and has experience from operative services and management development through 15 years in the Norwegian Armed Forces. Ten years ago, he was part of the Norwegian forces in Afghanistan.
Pushed to the extreme, he believes that psychological safety can turn out to be of vital importance.
‘That a person dared to speak out can mean the difference between success and fiasco. Psychological safety in teams is about creating a culture where you feel free to say what you mean, where asking for help is a good thing, and where you can make mistakes without being made fun of. In short, it means feeling safe to be oneself without the fear of negative consequences. In a sense, psychological safety is about reducing the social risk that can be experienced in teamwork.’
advice on how to build and maintain psychological safety in a team
- Employer have to to prioritise time to create a team spirit, in order for you to start the process
- When the team experiences a breach of psychological safety, they should take a break and address the challenge, in order to readjust
- Create the necessary psychological safety between team members is to dare to put ourselves in a vulnerable position
‘Why is this of such importance?’
‘We need it every single day. It creates well-being. We simply do a better job. It has shown to produce a number of desirable results: insecurity is handled better, conflicts can be turned into something positive, and positive synergies can be extrapolated from the team's diversity. In my own studies of students at NHH, I have seen how deeply psychological safety is related to team performance. Safe teams actually appear to build higher Lego towers than other teams, with an astonishing degree of correlation,’ he says.
Read Hva sier dette om deres følgerskap, Siv og Trine? In Dagens Perspektiv 10 September.
Many have shown an interest in the subject, including within the business sector.
'But many people believe that psychological safety is something that can be established in the team – and that it is then maintained over a prolonged period of time. My studies prove this notion wrong. Psychological safety is fresh produce. The safety established during the fun team-building exercises, is not maintained by itself. The deciding factor becomes how we can build safe teams that perform well over time, when encountering the challenges of daily life, breeches of trust, tough priorities and unforeseen circumstances.’
‘What is your best advice on how to build and maintain psychological safety in a team?’
‘The first thing is for the employer to prioritise time to create a team spirit, in order for you to start the process. I asked a former colleague of mine from the Royal Naval Academy with extensive experience in team development what he thought was necessary to create a sense of security in a team. The answer was simple: “time”,’ says Fyhn.
Breaches of psychological safety
‘Secondly: When the team experiences a breach of psychological safety, they should take a break and address the challenge, in order to readjust,’ says Fyhn.
‘Examples of such breaches may, for example, occur when someone in a meeting erupts into a reaction, such as “have you not understood that yet!?”, or reducing an idea to stupidity by replying, “that goes without saying”. These are experiences that can decrease psychological safety for some individuals and in the group. It is hard to change a negative culture. It's better to take a time out as you go along before a negative culture becomes ingrained,’ the research fellow says.
The third piece of advice to create the necessary psychological safety between team members is to dare to put ourselves in a vulnerable position.
‘We are often too preoccupied with communicating our own opinions and showing our own skills. Meet others with curiosity, rather, and ask for feedback on how others perceive you – no matter how intimidating this may feel. What you are then communicating is that you acknowledge the other person's perspective and that you are fallible. You are then offering a sense of security to the person, in addition to learning more about yourself.’