By: Sara Coene
To be able to use the full potential of innovation, psychological safety within teams and organisations is essential. Psychological safety is the shared belief that it is safe within the team for interpersonal risk taking. There is a direct relation between a psychological safe climate and performance of the team. (Edmondson 1999)
No innovation without creativity, no creativity without psychological safety
A safe climate ensures that teams learn more from their mistakes, have a higher level of engagement, experience less risk in the submission of new ideas and have an atmosphere of constructive conflict management. All these elements have a positive impact on creativity and innovation. If there is no safe climate, communication stops and as a result the effective team collaboration comes to a standstill.
Safety is therefore one of the most important elements in the creative output of a team. It is all about daring to share information and ideas without being laughed at or punished for it.
Psychological safety is a component of the creative organisation
Frank van Massenhove, Chairman at the Belgian Governmental Service of Social Security, has understood this very well. He made clear steps forward with his team to a more creative organisation. He understands that psychological safety is essential to make this work. One of the very concrete things he has done was to make an agreement and behave consistently in line with this agreement:
“If you succeed, we will tell you that you did a great job and if it fails,
we will just say that the boss took a wrong decision.”
Note that in this message, when successful the team spirit is emphasized (if YOU succeed) and when they fail it refers to the idea/project (if IT fails). A simple guideline like this one, can make the difference and encourage creativity because people see and feel that it is okay to share ideas and information, that it is okay to take initiative and experiment, because when you fail, you are protected.
A simple rule but not simple to apply. It requires a consistent, authentic and continuous behaviour of management and team in developing safety.
This example has everything to do with leadership. The behaviour of leaders is of fundamental importance to create psychological safety and stimulate creativity in the team or organisation. With leaders, we mean not only the formal leadership but it is just as applicable to informal leaders.
What can you do as a leader to create a safe climate in the team you work with?
We give you five options to consider:
1. Give space instead of being controlling
As manager, you decide on the direction the team has to take. That is the way it should be. But when you start to decide how this has to happen and what your employees have to do on a daily base, they experience the lack of autonomy and will not be motivated to come up with ideas. With every suggestion of a customer they will shrug their shoulders and wait until the boss tells them what to do.
Give space to your team. For example by giving them time or budget. Even more important is to give them freedom to decide, within clear guidelines. That way, people know they can come up with creative proposals and that they can help you to achieve the targets that were set.
2. Show cognitive confidence
Employees need to have the feeling that you are competent and are knowledgeable, because that gives them confidence. That does not mean that you by definition need to be the most competent and experienced person to be a leader. You need to know sufficient to be able to take the right decisions and especially to realise that you do not know everything and thus are always open to different insights and ideas.
3. Stimulate group cohesion
Group cohesion has everything to do with mutual involvement and the goals of the team. Everything starts with a common vision and it needs to be followed by continuous dialogue. Your aim is to work together as good and effectively as possible and to have motivated team members who come up with ideas themselves, team members who also listen and build on ideas of others to realise progress. Giving constructive feedback to each other is therefore an essential competence, because you want your people to be motivated to cooperate. You cannot reach this by remaining silent when something is not good enough, but you can do it by discussing it openly and professionally.
4. Show respect and dignity
Good feedback is also a basic condition for mutual respect. Remaining silent about something difficult and then afterwards complaining with your peers shows a lack of respect for the other. Being jealous about an idea or realisation of another team member and trying to make it smaller, is not very dignified either.
Sometimes you have to postpone your judgment to make an idea grow, to look at an issue from another angle, to have people finish what they want to say. That does not mean that you are not allowed to have an opinion. It means that you need to give the other some space. Space to let them tell their story and to take some time yourself to reflect on it and to dare changing your opinion if your insights change.
5. Be open and approachable
Hidden agenda’s are fatal for a team. If people are not moving in the same direction, obstacles will pop up along the way. Priorities will deteriorate, cooperation will blur and people will feel unsafe in an environment that is unclear to them.
Team members need to be able to discuss this and point it out to their leader.
When people better understand what others know, belief, choose and are sensitive about, they can anticipate more on the behaviour of others (Huber, 2010).
Understand the other in depth – thus show empathy – leads to better learning and creative insights. And that is crucial for innovation.
By Sara Coene
About the author
Sara helps managers develop their Creative Leadership. She’s a Design Thinking Coach and Managing Partner at Bedenk, a creative Consultancy and Business Coaching agency focused on the development of Business Creativity within organisations.