Psychological Safety For Remote Teams: Beyond A List of Behaviors

3 min read

Psychological Safety For Remote Teams: Beyond A List of Behaviors

At the heart of every great team is psychological safety. It feeds into all the most critical elements of effective work teams.




And we all know the legends and data surrounding it. From appearing at the top of Google’s list of what makes their teams effective, to how it hearkens back to Maslow’s Hierarchy, and research by heavy-hitters like Amy Edmondson, industry leaders have put out the rally cry:

It’s time to nail psychological safety. And this year, we have to nail it for remote teams.

Countless articles advise on ways to cultivate psychological safety for remote teams. But who's reading them?

As a talent leader, you definitely are. This isn’t a new topic – it’s been around for years. Still, the folks you really need these articles in front of – leaders at your company – are focused on executing their core job functions: sales, marketing, operations…

Developing soft skills is as painfully secondary as it always was, especially given today’s challenges.

But you know it’s not enough to recommend a few articles or even assign a workshop on a topic as crucial as psychological safety.

These days call for more frequent reinforcement of the leader behaviors that nurture psychological safety.

The list: leader behaviors that nurture psychological safety.

Amy Edmondson coined the term ‘psychological safety’, and defined it as ‘a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.’ So which leader behaviors create this shared belief? Based on Amy’s own words and industry research, we’ve drawn up a few right here:

  1. Model curiosity – ask a lot of questions.
  2. Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
  3. Acknowledge your own fallibility.
  4. Encourage team members to share new ideas, even if they aren’t fully fleshed out.
  5. Create an environment that promotes risk-taking.
  6. Design a process team members can follow to feel safe taking risks or trying new things.
  7. When others offer an improvement idea, review the idea and give it a fair shot.
  8. Support team members who ask clarifying questions and venture diverse ideas.
  9. Adopt new group norms with recurring opportunities for teammates to share recent instances where they took a risk – whether it worked or didn’t.
  10. Actively move viable innovative ideas into implementation.

What would you add to this list? How else might a leader demonstrate a commitment to nurturing the psychological safety of their team?

Beyond the list: demonstrate your company's commitment to psychological safety by reinforcing and measuring these behaviors.

After communicating clearly defined, observable behaviors like these to leaders, you’ll need a way to keep the behaviors front-of-mind and prove your commitment to them.

Step 1: Collect frequent feedback on each leader’s alignment to specific behaviors.

When done correctly, continuous feedback frequently reminds leaders and employees of the behaviors your company values.

Each week, ask each leader’s peers, managers, and direct reports how frequently that leader reflects each behavior.  Make sure that their answers are anonymous – this is one way you can nurture psychological safety with the feedback process itself.

Tip: Avoid requiring written responses. Feedback providers know their writing styles give them away, and often hold back on giving honest answers. Instill psychological safety by using a multiple choice format instead.

Step 2: Give each leader access to their feedback data.

As feedback data rolls in, each leader gains insight into precisely which behaviors they excel in, and which ones they need to reflect more often in order to achieve an environment of psychological safety.

Over time, leaders can visualize how their efforts are being perceived by their closest co-workers.

Step 3: Reward and recognize leaders with high feedback scores.

Then, ask them how they were successful. How can you replicate their success across other teams? Is there an opportunity to pair one leader with another for mentorship work?

Ideally, you’ll be able to compare performance data for top leaders and bottom performers to understand the impact of psychological safety on employee engagement and team performance.

Remember - observable behavior change and measurement is key.

Your leaders will develop new habits faster and more effectively when provided with intuitive leadership behaviors and frequent feedback. Ideally, the feedback process you employ will be easy, frequent, accessible, and psychologically safe. Doing this will help you operationalize faster behavior change – and communicate its impact on the business – for every employee at your organization.

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