What do you do to ensure the psychological safety of your coworkers?

5173lnlcqnl-_ac_us218_I love Saturday Night Live. I’ve loved this sketch comedy show since the first skit I saw back in the early nineties. Dana Carvey was dressed up as the Church Lady yelling, “Satan!” followed by her catchphrase, “Well isn’t that special?” My very religious grandmother was in the kitchen chopping vegetables. I looked over and saw her shaking her head, laughing looking down. 

Lorne Michaels has steered Saturday Night Live for 42 years. He shares that the trick to setting up the right group of people is counterintuitive:

“You know that saying, There’s no I in TEAM?” Michaels told me. “My goal was the opposite of all that. All I wanted were a bunch of I’s. I wanted everyone to hear each other, but no one to disappear into the group.”

But if everyone is an individual, how do you make sure there’s order in the room? How do you make sure that egos don’t get crushed? The point is made even clearer when Duhigg points out that, “Comedy writers carry a lot of anger.”

The norms a company’s culture cultivates play a huge role in allowing the “I’s” to soar without bringing the whole show crashing down.

“Allowing others to fail without repercussions, respecting divergent opinions, feeling free to question others’ choices but also trusting that people aren’t trying to undermine you – were all aspects of feeling psychologically safe at work.” – Duhigg

So how do you cultivate this psychological safety with your teams? Luckily Duhigg provides us with a check list:

What matters are five key norms:

  • Teams need to believe that their work is important.
  • Teams need to feel their work is personally meaningful.
  • Teams need clear goals and defined roles.
  • Team members need to know they can depend on one another.
  • Teams need psychological safety.

Duhigg goes on to list ways to build up psychological safety in your teams as the leader:

  • Leaders should not interrupt teammates during conversations because that will establish an interrupting norm.
  • They should demonstrate they are listening by summarizing what people say after they said it.
  • They should admit what they don’t know.
  • They shouldn’t end a meeting until all team members have spoken at least once.
  • They should encourage people who are upset to express their frustrations, and encourage teammates to respond in non-judgmental ways.
  • They should call out intergroup conflicts and resolve them through open discussion.

“Teams succeed when everyone feels like they can speak up and when members show they are sensitive to how one another feels. What I’ve realized is that as long as everyone feels like they can talk and we’re really demonstrating that we want to hear each other, you feel like everyone’s got your back.” – Duhigg

What do you do to ensure the psychological safety of your coworkers?

I struggle with this at times as my programming position is a lonely endeavor. I find that doing favors for my colleagues and encouraging them to go for their goals, knowing that we all grow as we push ourselves to realize new goals is necessary, noble, and needed. 

“Leap and the net will appear.” – John Burroughs

Got any suggestions to cultivate psychological safety by example? Email me!