29th November 2021

Optimising Diverse Teams Using Psychological Safety

Diversity is a key element of the modern landscape and when actively promoted in the workplace, it can lead to greatness. Having a diverse workforce with individuals from different cultural backgrounds, ages, genders, and with different cognitive abilities breeds innovation [1]. Diverse teams use their different views and experience to create unique solutions. They have an advantage over homogenous teams as they also help individuals within the team to become aware of their own potential biases and entrenched ways of thinking which can negative affect on their decision making or lead to them ignoring key information. However, to promote diversity at work, organisations have to promote inclusivity, ensuring all voices are heard and respected. One way to do this and optimise diverse teams is through psychological safety [2]. 

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What is psychological safety? 

Psychological safety can be described as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” [3]. This makes an individual feel safe to share their ideas, concerns and questions without fear of being punished or humiliated. They feel comfortable taking risks, knowing that their team members will not embarrass or punish them if they make a mistake. A well-known project by Google with the code-name ‘Project Aristotle’ aimed to find the key to building high-performing teams. Their top 5 findings, ranked in order of importance, identified psychological safety as being the most critical ingredient to having successful teams [4].  

For psychological safety to exist within a team, there needs to be a sense of mutual respect, trust and belonging – the same ingredients necessary for sustained diversity. Interestingly, research suggests that it mediates the relationship between diversity and employee performance [5]. This allows the team to learn together and focus on collective goals.

On the contrary, when there is a lack of psychological safety, individuals feel hesitant to openly express themselves. They may also be reluctant to seek feedback from colleagues or their managers. Such behaviour can hinder not only their professional development but the success of the organisation [6]. This is why it is crucial for organisations to create psychologically safe environments for their employees. 

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How can leaders promote psychological safety within their teams? 

Practise open communication: by openly communicating with team members and practising transparency, leaders demonstrate how much they value their input. This in turn, creates a feeling of belonging among individuals, making them want to further contribute to the discussions and decision-making taking place within the team [7]. 

Show engagement: when individuals share their ideas, the leader demonstrates that they feel engaged to support further contributions. They can practise active listening, asking questions, while also adapting their body language to display curiosity [8].  

Promote healthy debate:  Leading by example means demonstrating to the team the importance of having healthy discussions for finding a collective solution. Leaders can initiate debate by asking “How can we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”. They can invite team members to share their ideas and encourage others to ask questions and challenge in a positive way. This allows individuals to share their perspectives and problem-solve together, enabling a diverse team to work at its optimum [9].  

Encourage Failure: Research suggests that highly effective teams are those that make mistakes. Hence, leaders should encourage team members to take risks, even if it leads to failure. Learning from their mistakes in an environment without punishment and judgement, makes individuals feel confident to try again. Such risk-taking behaviour is strongly linked to innovation.  

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How can Impact help you? 

Here at Impact, we value the importance of diversity and psychological safety at work. We offer bespoke leadership and team development programmes and can support with you and your team in creating positive change, helping you and your organisation thrive. To get in touch with us, click here. 

Useful Resources 

[1] Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter? Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter  

[2] The Role of Psychological Safety in Diversity and Inclusion Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-fearless-organization/202006/the-role-psychological-safety-in-diversity-and-inclusion  

[3] Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350–383. https://doi.org/10.2307/2666999  

[4] The five keys to a successful Google team. Retrieved from: https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/  

[4] The five keys to a successful Google team[4] The five keys to a successful Google team 

[5] Singh, B., Winkel, D. E., & Selvarajan, T. T. (2013). Managing diversity at work: Does psychological safety hold the key to racial differences in employee performance?. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 86(2), 242-263. 

[6] Kark, R., & Carmeli, A. (2009). Alive and creating: The mediating role of vitality and aliveness in the relationship between psychological safety and creative work involvement. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 785–804. doi:10.1002/job.571 

[7] Psychological Safety At Work: Why It Matters And How To Create It. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2021/05/06/psychological-safety-at-work-why-it-matters-and-how-to-create-it/?sh=629508ad7b85  

[8] Guide: Understand team effectiveness. Retrieved from: https://rework.withgoogle.com/guides/understanding-team-effectiveness/steps/foster-psychological-safety/  

[9] Psychological safety: The secret to Google’s top teams’ success – and 5 lessons for workplaces. Retrieved from: https://www.sage.com/en-gb/blog/how-to-create-psychological-safety-for-employees-google/ The secret to Google’s top teams’ success – and 5 lessons for workplaces – Sage Advice United Kingdom 

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