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What is psychological safety and why is it so important to instil in your virtual team?

In 2015, Google launched Project Aristotle to identify what behaviours within high-performance teams contribute to success. The only common practice they found was “psychological safety.” In all high-performing teams, psychological safety was extremely prevalent. So what is it, why is it so important to instil in a virtual team, and how do you implement it in yours?

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of feeling safe. That is, feeling safe to take risks, ask questions or express their ideas without feeling embarrassed or rejected by their team members. It could also refer to feeling confident to ask for help and to make mistakes.

In teams where psychological safety isn’t present, team members will often hold their thoughts and ideas back. They also tend to not even attempt to push themselves out of their comfort zone. As you can imagine, this directly results in lower performance of the team as a whole.

Why is psychological safety SO important to the performance of our teams right now?

With a virtual team, where everyone is working from home, there are extra challenges and pressures that make psychological safety really important. Team members need to be able to take initiative and work unsupervised, they need to be able to respond and adapt to emerging opportunities. If the team is to grow and be successful, team members need to suggest different ways of doing things and challenge the status quo. They need to speak up about emerging problems and bottlenecks.

If a virtual team doesn’t have psychological safety, performance and growth will suffer. So how can you nurture this?

How to instil psychological safety in your virtual team

To develop and nurture a high-performing virtual team, you need to create a sense of togetherness while also encouraging people to take a chance.

Take a look at your management style now by asking yourself these questions:

  • How do you react when something goes wrong?

  • How well do you “ask rather than tell” in your dealings with staff?

  • How well do you truly listen to your staff?

  • How accessible do you make yourself to your staff?

  • How quick are you to blame rather than understand when mistakes happen or things don’t go to plan?

  • How often do you thank people for speaking up, particularly if they are delivering a difficult message?

  • How often do you allow yourself to be vulnerable with your staff members?

By reflecting on how you are with your staff now, you can make the necessary improvements that will make the most impact.

Create an environment where people aren’t afraid to speak up and give their opinion, where people aren’t afraid to take risks and make mistakes. Once you do, you’ll see why psychological safety is the number one factor which predicts the performance of a team.

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