What is Psychological Safety?
Many agile organisations display the attributes of psychological safety without even realising it has a name! And the same can be said for us; at Digital Detox, we recently came into contact with the term and were interested to learn more about it.
Here’s what we’ve learned:
1. Psychological safety is a culture, not a process
At a simple level, psychological safety means that each individual at a company feels secure to express their thoughts, opinions, suggestions and unique personality in a trusted, open way. Whilst many organisations have come a long way in terms of culture, mental health, support and growth, in some companies people are often afraid to speak up in meetings or take risks for fear of failure.
Psychological safety suggests a different approach - it promotes a culture where the entire team shares accountability so no one person will ever be blamed or ridiculed for a failed attempt. In turn, this breeds better creativity and performance of the team, plus a happier work environment all round.
When we explored our own culture of ‘speaking up’ within Digital Detox, we agreed unanimously that we offer a very open and safe environment for individuals to express themselves. People are given the opportunity to say what they think and aren’t afraid to take risks, make suggestions or give opinions on the best way to approach a project or the best method to achieve a goal. This led us to the next question: how did this culture come about?
2. Psychological safety starts with open leadership
In our case, we believe that the open, informal and considerate culture that exists at Digital Detox has a lot to do with the people leading the company. Our CEO, Donovan Justice is a team mate, a colleague and a friend - he isn’t afraid to muck in and help us solve problems, overcome challenges and find exciting new ways of doing things. As a result, neither is the rest of the team.
By setting the example, Donovan has unwittingly created a safe space for people to express themselves and take calculated risks to solve problems. There’s also a sense of mutual respect between the leadership team and the rest of the DD staff. Everyone is trusted to do what they need to do and failure is seen as a learning opportunity rather than a reason for blame.
3. Psychological safety helps in a crisis
Mutual trust has proved very helpful during the Coronavirus lockdown. As the entire team has been forced to work remotely for the foreseeable future, we’ve noticed that our inherent culture of trust and openness has meant we’ve been able to continue working pretty much as normal.
As a digital design agency, we’re already well equipped with tools that enable remote working during the Coronavirus lockdown. Because we’re all used to getting on with our work at the hours and locations that suit us best, we’ve taken our laptops home, set up a little workspace somewhere comfortable/practical and resumed where we left off.
We keep in touch with regular video chats and calls but these are centered around wellbeing, socialising and updating the team on project progress, rather than checking in to make sure we’re all doing what we’re supposed to. This is psychological safety in action.
4. Psychological safety shows in our performance
Google did a two year study to find out what makes a great team. They found that, “who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.”
At Digital Detox we’ve remained a consistently high performing team for a long time and have since learned through our research that this is one of the traits of a psychologically safe work culture. Google’s study showed that being able to express ourselves and take risks safely within a team, without fear of failure, breeds better creativity and, ultimately, a happier more productive team. To us, this is just a regular day at the office!
About Digital Detox
We are a team of designers and developers; thinkers and doers. Our team of 24 is made up of 15 different nationalities, speaking 12 languages between us. Significant experience, technical ability and cross-functional expertise are our biggest USPs and most important assets.
If you have an idea, a challenge or an opportunity you’d like to discuss, get in touch.