Close this search box.

Psychological Safety In The Workplace: The Biggest Predictor Of Team Effectiveness With Stephanie Fleming

Exploring how having an environment safe for interpersonal risk-taking can have a transformative impact on both individuals and teams. In this episode, psychological safety Certified Practitioner and Strategic Planner Stephanie Fleming discusses what psychological safety is, how it can be cultivated, and the benefits it brings to personal growth. Stephanie explains the challenges that come with creating a psychologically safe environment and the role that leaders play in fostering a culture of safety. By the end of the episode, you’ll have a deeper understanding of how psychological safety can change everything for yourself and your team.

Watch the episode here

Listen to the podcast here

Psychological Safety In The Workplace: The Biggest Predictor Of Team Effectiveness With Stephanie Fleming

In this episode, we’re going to be talking about psychological safety in the workplace and why it’s important to have. Stephanie Fleming is a psychological safety certified practitioner, and her passion is guiding organizations in teams through challenging situations and change. She brings a combination of marketing, change management and human-centered design to her approach, leveraging group behavior and dynamics to create the most impactful and sustainable results. Her quest to unearth barriers to successful strategy execution led her to team psychological safety, which is the biggest predictor of team effectiveness. Her engagements integrate a team health approach to strategy development and execution, resulting in successful initiatives while building essential 21st-Century leadership skills. With that, stay tuned for my conversation with Stephanie.

Before we go into the episode, I want to remind you that if you go on, you can take a quiz. If you go midway through the first page, you can see a section that says, “Let’s find out where you are in your career.” You click on the radio button to take the quiz. Our quiz is going to be there to help you identify how you may be holding yourself back in your career and you may not even know. It’s going to give you 1 of 3 blockers. It will help you identify what you need to focus on so that you can advance in your career.

Stephanie, thank you for being on the show. I was reading through your LinkedIn. There statement that your LinkedIn says. You mentioned that, “Psychological safety is the biggest predictor of team effectiveness.” Can you start us off with what you mean by that? Thank you for having me here. Let’s start with psychological safety, what it is, and a little bit of the origin story because it’s pretty interesting how it comes about. First of all, when do you think of psychological safety, that is the belief that your environment is safe for interpersonal risk-taking? You have this sense of confidence that someone’s not going to embarrass you. They’re not going to reject or punish you for speaking up. There’s trust and respect, people are comfortable being themselves, they feel like they belong, and they’re treated with dignity. When I first heard about this, I think, “That’s common sense.” When you go back to 2016, I was sitting on my couch, and I picked up a magazine from Sunday New York Times, and there’s this article about high-performing teams, the big study that Google had done, and the students of high-performing teams. I was intrigued by this, I started reading them, and it rocked my world. Google, you can imagine how much data they have to everybody, much lets their employees, what they had been doing that they’ve been trying to figure out is, “How do we replicate these high-performing teams we have in our company? Teams help things get done, these high-performing ones are like magic, but we need to be able to replicate them. They literally tried for over a decade to replicate them and they kept failing. They were trying things like, “Here are all these high-performing people and all these different teams. Put them together and see what happens. Here are people who specialize together or have the same educational background.” It couldn’t replicate what was happening in some of their high-performing teams. There’s this woman that was in charge of this research project. She came across some work by Dr. Amy Edmondson on psychological safety, which I’ll go into in more detail in a second. She thought, “There are some things here that she doing. What if we put that into the equation?” They started a new team study called Project Aristotle. They studied almost 200 teams over three years. There are almost 18,000 data points to an incredible study. What they found was that there are five factors to making a high-performing team. These are things we as leaders know about and are generally trained in. First, there’s you must have the instruction clarity. You know what your roles are, what the vision is, what the goals are and what you’re supposed to be working on. There’s a structure to the game. There’s dependability. You can depend on your teammate to deliver what they say they’re going to deliver and deliver high standards. There’s meaning. The work needs to have some kind of personal meaning to a team member. There’s an impact. You need to feel like you’re making an impact in whatever you’re working on in the organization, but that change is happening, then the last one is psychological safety, which is a belief that your environment they put for this interpersonal taking. What is interesting is that they found that all those other factors are not as effective without psychological safety. They were able to quantify the impact of 43%. Having psychological safety on a team adds 43% more to the effectiveness of the team and the strategy. Having psychological safety on a team adds 43% more to the effectiveness of the team and the strategy. — Stephanie Fleming Share on X That’s the first time this work in psychological safety that’s been going on for many years was brought to the business world, and it was clarified. What does that mean? If there was psychological safety, people feel safe speaking up. Psychological safety has four parts. First, you need to feel and have high measures and all four of these areas. One is inclusion and diversity. It’s one thing to have diversity, but if you don’t have inclusion, it can harm performance, then if you have inclusion, it increases performance. You need to have that sense of belonging. It is a major human need. This is where belonging, connection, and that relationship that’s important to a team come into play. If you feel like you belong, you’re going to be more likely to pick up. The second one is that relationship, attitude and failure. How are mistakes treated? If you’re holding mistakes against each other in a team, you’re not going to work that well together, but if you’re able to frame a mistake or a failure at the learning experience or experiment instead of, “How in the world did this happen?” Putting everybody on the defensive. It’s, “What have we learned from this?” It changes that dynamic. A third one is a willingness to help each other and to ask for help. That’s a tricky one. If you have a highly political climate, and a competitive one, you’re not going to be as willing to help each other or you could also be burned out. If you’re a top performer, high achiever, it can also be very difficult to ask for help because you may feel like others are going to think you’re incompetent, though there are some things wrapped around that. The fourth one is an open conversation, how well you can have an open conversation and bring up a half-baked idea. Those four things make up psychological safety. You can begin to see if you have all four of those things running, and you start to have this psychologically, you can then start to have a psychologically safe team. That is a lot of information right there. We’re putting psychological safety at the center of everything. Without psychological safety, you’re not going to have these high-performance teams. Is that what Google found, then? Is that the result of their study? What was the 43% representing? The 43% was presenting that additional effectiveness a team had been working together. That could be measured in terms of innovation, speed, resiliency, adaptability and all of those factors. I’m going to pause there for a second. I want you to think for a minute about the absolute best team you have ever been on. In thinking about that team, what was possible and why? That’s interesting because when I do think back over my history, one of the best teams that I worked on, the manager represented psychological safety. They were always asking, “How are you guys doing? What’s going on? How can I help?” When you did go to them with a question, they were open to listening and trying to help you, first of all, they’re trying to understand how can they resolve the situation. This is when I was an individual contributor. That was great because we all felt heard. We all felt that you could go talk to the individual to the manager, and they would do something about it if it was within their power and whatnot. That’s a good example of we felt safe talking to the manager and felt heard, and we belonged. We did these things, but then there’s this element called magic. I didn’t know how to articulate it until the study came along. Now think about the absolute worst team you’ve been on. What happened, and what wasn’t possible? I’ve never been in a situation where any one of my teams was horrendous, but early on in my career, I do remember being part of a team where the manager didn’t manage well. You were left out in the left field or if you brought something to them, they’re like, “It’s no big deal,” or they wouldn’t do anything about it. At that point, that’s totally a different effect. It’s like, “You’re not hurt. It doesn’t matter. I don’t matter here,” that kind of thing. It shut down. The study that Dr. Amy Edmondson was working on many years ago, kick-started this stuff. I give credit to there are other researchers before her that we’re talking about psychological safety in an organizational sense, but this is how it started to become a little bit more tangible. This is when she was working on her PhD. She was working in a hospital setting. She was looking at teams. Some of them were low and high performing. There are qualities. She’s looking at mistakes and failures within the hospital system, within teams and trying to figure out something. Her data coming back was showing that the lowest performing teams were making the least mistakes. She’s like, “That doesn’t make sense. Is the data right?” She had other people looking at it and kept coming back the same way. She started embedding people in some of the team meetings that they were having. What she learned was that the lowest-performing teams were making fewer mistakes than the higher-performing ones. It’s just we are not recording them, whereas the higher-performing teams, they recorded all of their mistakes because they wanted to learn from them so that wouldn’t happen again. Now, whenever I go to the hospital, I’m like, “Which one of the teams am I going to be working with?”
NWB 50 | Psychological Safety
Psychological Safety: The lowest performing teams weren’t actually making fewer mistakes than the higher performing ones. They just weren’t recording them. Whereas the higher performing teams, they reported all of their mistakes because they wanted to learn from them, so they wouldn’t happen again.
Back to my original question, now we know why psychological safety is meaningful or big a predictor. I’m curious, we started talking about the Google study. Were they able to replicate that with other teams? What happened with that? They were able to replicate that. In pockets, they have had good results. From what I’ve heard secondhand from people that work with Google is that they’re awesome at research, but then operationalizing it and keeping it going is a whole other thing. It comes down to leaders, what their mindset is, and the realization that things are changing. We have had this history of management, that hasn’t changed in decades or centuries. There’s an article I came across in Financial Times. The question was very provocative. It is, “Are women going to be the next leaders?” It was pointing out that we are different than we have been in the past, with management theory and management practices coming from a very male-dominated point of view. It came from church, military, slave plantations, and then into the industrial era. It’s this command and control. There are other words for it. Essentially, it’s command and control, management by fear. Now we’re in a place where teams and organizations need to be adaptive. People need to be at their best. People need to collaborate. That’s how things get done. It’s through collaboration. That is now why we’re starting to see, “There are all these other ways that we can motivate and help be at their best to get into the flow.” This is a generalization, but looking at the research, women typically score higher on emotional intelligence, collaborative practices and working together. I think this is a huge opportunity for women to step in and start to influence what acceptable management practices are created to the 21st century. Things like psychological safety is the foundation. What do you expect logical safety? I think of what be built from there. Gen Z-ers are not putting up with managers mistreating them or talking down to them, because they can just quit their job and get another job. I’m Gen X-er. I’m in the 20 to 30-year range of experience. I was talking to somebody, and they’re like, “I think you’re a little bit more experienced.” I’m like, “She was four when I started working.” Now I’m in that realm, but they don’t put up with being mistreated when for our generation, you have to suck it up, deal with it and there’s nothing you can do about it, and you move forward. Also, the younger Millennials and Gen Z are now talking about salary. They’re sharing it with everybody so that there’s that transparency and all that stuff. We’re going to talk about change management. When you have that psychological safety, you can be a change management agent. You said this is exciting because women can be those change agents. Let’s talk about change management, and how women can be those change agents. Change management, first of all, is the people side of change. In organizations, any kind of big transformation projects, or even small ones, you typically see, “Here’s the project plan,” and it’s very technical or like, “This is going to be your job description. This is the change. It’s going to be taking place, and this is what you need to do.” What a change management doe is like, “How much of this change is dependent on people? Is it 0%? Sure, let’s follow these orders.” If you’re dependent on people, you need to have a people change strategy, and you need to bring people along. That’s where the discipline has gotten started. You can start to see how you can start to connect the dots with people. When you start to think about what’s in it for them for a change, what you need to do to get them on board to bring them along, even sourcing is a little messy. That’s why people don’t like to go there too much. It’s much more comfortable to say, “This is the way you do it.” This is we’re talking a little bit about these mindsets that very top CEOs have. These top CEOs break the top 40% of their industry. They have over three times more in return to their shareholders and their peers. When I was looking over this study, it’s in the book CEO Excellent by the three McKinsey consultants. They said, “There’s the fix,” but there are two of them that caught my attention because it’s about the people’s side of change. One is that the top CEOs treat the soft stuff and the hard stuff, which means they treat people and culture as a priority.
NWB 50 | Psychological Safety
Psychological Safety: Top CEOs treat the soft stuff as the hard stuff, which means they treat people and culture as a priority. These soft stuff issues account for 72% of the barriers’ success for strategy.
It’s as important as the financial stuff. He thought the tough issues account for 72% of the barriers for strategy, but if they’re addressed, the odds of the strategy being successfully executed more than double from 30% to 79%. Think about that for a minute. That’s one thing. The second thing is top CEOs mobilized their strategy through their leaders. The first thing they think about is the psychology of the team. The first thing they do is form an effective management team. They focus less on what the team does together, and more on how the team works together. You start to see how team dynamics have a strong influence on how successful a strategy or a change happens. When I was thinking about this, I started doing a little bit of research and soft stuff. What does that look like right now? I came across this chart. McKenzie has been coming out with great research during the pandemic. It’s a study on what are the top reasons for quitting previous jobs from April 21 to 22. There are ten reasons that can be held with a focus on the people side of change and psychological safety. The biggest one is the lack of career development and advancement. There are uncaring and uninspiring leaders. There’s a lack of meaningful work, unreliable and unsupportive people at work, a non-inclusive and unwelcoming community, a lack of support for health and well-being and an unsafe work environment. These are all health reasons that are absolutely preventable. You cared about your culture. With all of these things with psychological safety and built, like we talked about those different components, why not build professional development, team development and leadership development by using and practicing psychological safety interventions every day in your normal work? That sounds fantastic. Just being in the corporate world, one of the challenges is people are busy with their day-to-day. It also has to come from the top. If the top CEO doesn’t believe or think that the soft stuff or the people in culture is important, then nothing’s ever going to change. It does have to come from the top. I like that this is the book called CEO Excellence that it has of has to come from the top down. I do agree to career development. That’s another reason why a lot of Gen Z-ers and Millennials are leaving because they don’t see that advancement and career succession. It’s difficult for managers to be working on their staff’s career development when they’re busy doing day-to-day. What kind of recommendations do you have because you go into a corporation, and you work with teams on this stuff? What would you say to a situation like that then? First of all, coming from the top is important, but I’ll have a little caveat there. You can find psychologically safe teams within a dysfunctional overall culture. We’ve all been on those teams or led those teams that everyone else wanted to be on. It’s an opportunity for anybody within an organization to step up and take that leadership role. You don’t have to necessarily be the leader of the team. That is best because you need that buy-in overall for your team. There are a couple of everyone is super busy. I totally get that, but how much of that busyness is unproductive? If you’re doing things in an efficient way, in an effective way, you’re going to have downtime. It can be worthwhile to stop. Let me put this another way. I have one mentor along the way that said to me as I was early in my career in my first P&L responsibility, “You need to think of your business as a balance sheet of here’s the stuff that you’ve got to do right now to pressures that you have from all of your different stakeholders, and deliverables, but then there’s the stuff that you have to make sure you’re working on for the long-term and the strategic direction. If you’re only focusing on the today, then now that’s where you’re going to stay stuck. If you want to grow, you focus on both, and figure out that right balance.” With psychological safety, there are a couple of things that someone can do to get started. It is awareness. Talk to your team. To back up a little bit. I think all teams and people on teams wanted to work well. We spend much of our life at work, which is to be a good experience. We all get frustrated when things don’t go right and there are all different kinds of reasons for that. Educate an awareness of yourself and your team, what those five factors of a high-performing team are that we talked about, and then talk about psychological safety. Do you check the boxes on those four items that we talked about before? Do you have the right structure in place? Do you have dependability? Do people understand their roles? Do you have a vision that’s bringing people together? Do they know what they’re working on and how their work ties to the overall organizational structure? Those are some of the bones then look at psychological safety those four key elements. Where do you think people in your organization are? I do an assessment anonymous that helps people have a conversation and a dialogue about it. For someone wanting to take the first steps in getting that awareness and then creating the team agreements. This is the way we’re going to work together. This covers expectations and what does everyone need to feel safe, heard and respected? That’s a good place to start and anyone can do this. One more thing with that is if someone violates one of the agreements, how will that be handled? If someone violates one of the agreements, and it’s not taken care of that’s going to hurt psychological safety, but it’s taken care of right away within how that everyone wanted it to be taken care of, then it’s going to increase psychological safety. That’s a very good foundation right there that anyone can do.
NWB 50 | Psychological Safety
Psychological Safety: If someone violates one of the agreements, and it’s not taken care of, that’s going to hurt psychological safety. But if it’s taken care of right away within how everyone wanted it to be taken care of, then it’s going to increase psychological safety.
We talked about people leaving the corporate world and their jobs. What happens if you’re struggling to realign and reengage your teams after either a lot of people have left or even after layoffs, depending on the situation? It’s important to do this work and to get grounded. What do people need right now? This is a little bit outside of the topic, but I think in these kinds of situations, it’s also important to acknowledge lots and people that are no longer there that did contribute. They’re not the bad guys. They all contributed. That makes everyone also realize that they’re valuable if it comes time for them to go, or they get laid off, whatever the circumstances, they’re going to be honored and acknowledged. It goes a long way. People get focused on what the vision and purpose is like, “What do we have to do now to get to this place where we all need to be?” Get people on the same page. There’s also something to keep in mind for everyone, leaders in particular, every interaction you have is an opportunity to build psychological safety or to destroy it. It can be a lot of pressure, but it’s okay. There is a three-step framework that I think can be very helpful. This is also from Dr. Amy Edmondson. It’s common sense. It’s thinking about the before the interaction, the during what happens, and then the after. The before, how are you going to set the stage or frame the work that needs to be done? Think about that give that intention, because this is about providing the context for what you need, what you need the team to do, and getting everybody on the same page. You’re stating the purpose. You’re identifying what’s at stake, and how important it is to hear everyone’s thoughts. That’s step one to set the stage for working with your team and helping to rebuild. The second part is when you’re inviting participation, buying people to share their ideas. This is hard for people to do. It’s easier for others, but for the most part, it can be hard. You may even want to do this, in synchronous mode. Get people questions in advance so they can think about it. You don’t know the answer, “I don’t know.” It’s okay that you don’t know the answer. That’s why there’s a team. That’s why it’s important to hear from every single person. When you're inviting participation, you're inviting people to share their ideas. — Stephanie Fleming Share on X Every single person has had a different perspective that had a different lived experience. They’re going to have a different way of looking at things and all input is welcome. Even that seed of an idea or a thought, but you’re not exactly sure how to articulate it, put it out there because it may help someone else build on it, or may spark an idea of someone else. That to this point of building competence with your team, that they can voice that they can speak up. What happens afterward is super important. What are you going to do with that? The third step is responding productively. Watch the facial expressions and non-verbal cues. That’s a practice all in itself. You want to acknowledge and be very grateful for all this input that’s coming in and you want to act on it. Sometimes it’s difficult these days because when the pandemic started, we were all in Zoom. Everybody was on camera. Now, I’ve noticed the trend where hardly anybody’s on camera. People are done with the cameras. They don’t want to be on camera anymore. It’s hard to read those facial cues and stuff like that. That’s a challenge. I do believe that the team agreement is huge because if everybody knows what to expect, and what they can go and talk to their manager about and feel comfortable, that’s a big win right there. The work that you’re doing is critically important because I don’t think that it’s common knowledge in the corporate world that you need that psychological safety to be content and you feel safe. When you feel safe, it’s such a huge difference. There are a couple of reasons. One is psychological safety is still new to the business world. It become a buzzword. Here’s the thing. Psychological safety does not mean people aren’t held accountable. It’s not necessarily a safe place, and then a refuge. This isn’t a place to go where everyone is going to be nice to you and it can be very comfortable. That number we’re talking about, because of psychological safety, the environment can be uncomfortable because you’re going to get direct feedback. You may not like what you’re hearing, but that’s part of the growth. There’s this big relationship between psychological safety and accountability. If you think of a matrix of psychological safety on the vertical axis, low high, and accountability on the horizontal axis, low accountability, and you look at the different quadrants, if you have people with low accountability and low psychological safety, those are people that tend to be more apathetic at this point. Maybe they were very passionate at one point, but they were shut down or they were called troublemakers. This is where the quiet quitters are. If you have high accountability and low psychological safety, we call that the anxiety zone. I call it harried hustlers.
NWB 50 | Psychological Safety
Psychological Safety: People with low accountability and low psychological safety tend to be more apathetic. This is where the quiet quitters are.
This is where most people are because you have such high accountability and a big goal to reach, but there’s no safety at all. You are doing your best and you have that high performance, but it’s not sustainable. You’re going to burn out or start to go to that quiet quitter zone for at least for a while to get back into place. There’s heightened psychological safety and low accountability. I call those the comfy coasters. They’re writing their past successes in-process work. I change it, even if it’s outdated, even if they’re comfortable, they’re not going anywhere. Interestingly, these guys can show up as high engagement on the employee engagement form. You have high psychological at high accountability. This is where people are pushed to be their best. This is the growth mindset and the learning zone. All new research is being implemented throughout the world, but it’s not coming in place yet. Part of it is because people are busy. There’s curiosity, but then there’s also fear of like, “This is a one-and-done. It’s going to be a whole other body of work. Is this going to be therapy?” I liked that you differentiate it as being psychological safety at work, it’s not a refuge, not having tea parties, coffee and chit-chat all day. I also like the quadrants because that place people pretty clearly as to like where they are, and where they want to be because people want to be successful and fulfilled. Most people want to make a difference in their job because we spend a lot of time at work. I would much rather be busy than bored at work. There have been seasons where work is low and the days are long. I would rather be busy that my days go by and I’m engaged. It makes a big difference. I’m glad you clarified that because if we’re challenged, that’s how we grow. The growth mindset is important to have to be open to get that feedback so that when you receive the feedback, you take it as a learning tool, and you don’t take it personally. That’s a big difference there. I know you have this Viri. Is it a program? What’s the Viri? It is a process that I do when I’m coming to work with a client. It’s about assessing, discovering, and seeing where people are right now. It’s through an assessment tool and also interviews so that I get a good sense of what is working well and what can be leveraged there as well as where are people not feeling psychologically safe or where are they with the other factors that make a high-performing team. I’ve come across this a couple of times where I’ve talked to the senior leader and said, “One thing that we have going on for us is that we all know what our vision is and what our goals are,” then I talked to his people. Every single person said, “One thing we need is a vision. We need to know what we’re working on and what our roles are.” What a disconnect. That’s such a perfect example of one person thinking that, “Everybody knows their goals and vision,” and everybody else has no idea. I do this analysis and bring it to the team. I help the team. Everything I do is through teaching, and I want and getting experiential teaching so that the team is practicing that skill during the session. As we do a debrief, for example, I first go over, “This is how you have a dialogue because we’re not taught that in business school. This is how you have a productive conversation. This is how you go into inquiry. This is how you are from curiosity.” We’re not taught how to deeply listen. I go over some of these parameters and say, “This is where I’m going to push you into these different areas so you can learn and bring this scale to your regular team meetings so that you have a productive way to speak up, and to dig deeper in a responsive, productive way.” I’ve worked with a team. Depending on what they need, I can develop a program for them as a DIY approach of roadmap that they and the team leaders can work together in integrated with their work. It’s not like a whole other thing. It’s integrated into their daily work so they can start seeing for themselves the effectiveness of it. I also have this disbelief that, as with anything, this is a team sport. All these leaders are expected to do so much with their teams. Their teams don’t have the tools that they need. To be now, in a corporation, or any kind of organization, you need to be responsible for your self-awareness and your self-growth as well as the team growth, and how you work together on the team. It takes practice on an individual level and team practice. I think a bit of like a band or a sports team, “Do your individual drill? Did your team practice so that you’re ready for game day?” I provide a blueprint for a team to be able to go through that so that as the unexpected happens, they’re resilient. They’re able to execute against their strategy or adapt their strategy because they already know how to work together, and they have good practices and habits in place. To be now in a company or any kind of business, you need to be responsible for your self-awareness and how you work together on the team as well as your self-growth.— Stephanie Fleming Share on X I like the fact that you come in and give some of the team members the language because I heard someone once say, whenever they’re going to ask them to participate or try to be involved in a project, for example, this manager, the first thing that they would say is, “I want to let you know, it’s okay to say no.” That’s a perfect example of psychological safety because a lot of times when you’re asked, “Do you want to be part of this project?” you almost feel obligated sometimes to say yes, even though you don’t want to work on it. I thought that was brilliant from that manager’s perspective to say, “It’s okay to say no.” That’s how they started the conversation. Someone else when they were giving feedback, they started the conversation with, “I think there are some things that you do differently, but I will only share with you if you want me to share.” That’s like, “I have some feedback to give you but I’m only going to give it to you if you’re okay with it.” You’re almost asking their permission, per se. If they say yes, you give it, and if they say no, then at least you leave them thinking, “What is it? Could I approve it?” I thought those two situations were brilliant because you’re acknowledging the person first versus you’re an employee and you’re a human being. We’re people. We’re not just machines that you come in and you do this productivity. I thought those were two good examples of psychological safety. Those are good ones. It’s being human. It is allowing being human. We expect people to be like machines or not make any mistakes, that is not being human. We expect people to be like machines, to not make any mistakes. But that is not being human. — Stephanie Fleming Share on X I love that we’re having this conversation. I finished a series on negotiating then the second one is storytelling where this show primarily is for women in the corporate world that are trying to advance in their career development. A lot of times, we tell women, “You have to negotiate,” but we don’t necessarily give them the words or the frame. That’s a passion project of mine that’s going to come out of these couple of series that I did. I want to talk about psychological safety because there’s I think a disconnection for some women that if they do everything they need to do to advance in their career, they’re going to get that promotion, but they’re still the component of the company itself. If they don’t practice psychological safety, or if they don’t practice, diversity, equity inclusion, you could do all the right things, but you’re still halted from getting that promotion and that salary. That’s one of the things that I wanted to bring up because sometimes you’re doing all the right things, and you can’t get to that next level. It might not be you specifically. It could be the corporation or the company or wherever you’re working, then you have to figure out what your personal goals are in that situation. I’m thinking about referencing the Financial Times article earlier. It was referencing this one research about how many incompetent people get into leadership positions. One of the big reasons is that confidence is sometimes mistook as competence. What competence looks like is very much the male definition of confidence. It’s interesting to see how all these things are starting to come together now and how they will blow up. There are many more women in the workplace. You have Gen Z and Millennials that are pushing back over 50% now of professionals and managers, and people graduating from universities are women. You now have these 50 and 60-year-old women that have worked super hard throughout their life. They’re super achievers, and they’re the boardrooms. They are CEOs. I think things are going to be changing. It’s one of those things that I wish I had known you and my career. I am someone that worked hard, but I also learned early on too, that I could work hard and do all the right things. This happened in one company. We told, “I’m sorry, but you’re not a culture fit,” and then someone else comes in and tell me, “What does that even mean? You’re female. Look around you.” That’s the first time I’ve ever been told I can’t do something because I’m a girl. That is crazy. I was young in my career. It’s not that I would have thought about or I didn’t even know the language board at that time, but I didn’t know enough. When I went for my next job I looked at, “Who was where? Who was sitting in what chair?” This is a thing. If women are in these positions and are working hard they are great employees, and they are adding much new to the organization, if they don’t have that draft agent grow within that organization, they’re going to go somewhere else, they’re going to shine. That’s going to be a loss for that company. For the younger generations coming up behind us, I’m proud of them, because they are much more confident they’re coming in with expectations of being respected and of having that work life, I don’t want to call it to balance because there’s never perfect balance between work and life. The fact that they put their lives in front or in advance of their jobs. Many years ago when I started, it was like, “Work hard and work some more.” Now, employees want to enjoy life. They want to work to live, travel, enjoy time with loved ones and not be stuck in the office until all hours of the night. There’s a big shift of, “Why am I working hard?” To the detriment of the companies, if they don’t take that psychological safety that people are 43% more productive, then it’s their loss. I do believe that you’re in the right mindset, as far as this is the wave of the future as far as corporations need to start incorporating psychological safety because otherwise, they’re going to lose more good employees that go to other companies that have culture and that mindset. I’m also inspired by Gen Z and Millennials as well. They are out the gate. That value for leisure time, value for life outside of their career took me a long time to figure that out and to value my time. Do you have an example of maybe one of your clients that is now doing psychological safety and how things have changed for them? I’m going to give you an interesting example of a high-performing team like someone who has a hide psychological safety. They’ve measured high on all the counts. I went in to do their debrief and to talk to them. They’re being high whenever they saw something that was like lower, even though it was still high. They’re like, “Why is that? We need to talk about that?” In the course of this conversation, what they learned was that it is only the most tenured people felt comfortable being open with conversation and saying what they thought, and giving respectful and unfiltered feedback. The new people didn’t feel as comfortable about that. It was shocking to this through. They were also very thoughtful and highly emotionally intelligent. One of the people that was new, “I’ve joined this team. This has been helpful for me to hear the stories of how the team came together. Tenure people went through their failures, got through them, figured out how to say difficult things to each other and have difficult conversations. The slip-ups and how they followed through it and got to where they are now. They’re stronger than ever that they are now looking at us like, ‘How can we now have these practices as part of every single meeting we have, but also incorporated with our onboarding?’” I love what they are doing there with that if they’re thinking about, “We have some good things happening here. There’s always room for improvement. We need to be intentional about keeping it private and not take for granted that this is part of our organization,” and baking it into their onboarding.
NWB 50 | Psychological Safety
Psychological Safety: There’s always room for improvement, and we need to be intentional about keeping us pro and not take for granted that this is part of our organization.
  You have given us much amazing information and how more than anything, if you’re reading, you can always bring this to your manager and say, “Have you guys thought about talking about psychological safety and how can I be a change agent for our organization?” The more we practice that psychological safety within our companies, the better we are collectively recognizing each other as human beings. We know that when employees are happy at work, their productivity goes up, like 12% to 14%. It only benefits the company as well. What’s wrong with having fun with your work? You’ve given us already tons of amazing information. Are there two tips that you want to focus on for someone that’s in the corporate world trying to advance in their career? I also have a quickstart guide that I can make available to your readers to get them going right away. First of all, educating your team and yourself on psychological safety is important, taking that first step to create together team guiding principles, and how you’ll work together. I have in this quickstart guide a sample of this to help you get going. This is such a simple, though I know difficult first step. I also know that it’s doing something. This isn’t a one-and-done, it can evolve. It’s something you keep alive for each meeting. You revisit again when you have new members coming into. Makes sure it’s still relevant. Times change. get those team guiding principles together. The second one is as a leader, be intentional about your interactions. Think about and do what I’ve talked about with creating psychological safety with each one of your interventions. Thinking about setting the stage, how do you invite participation and respond productively? A little bonus is that if you feel yourself starting to get into reactive mode, which is common for all of us, this is what we do, especially in high pressured situations, there’s this little practice that I do that a coach taught me a long time ago called STOP. First, you feel your body doing it, stop. Take a pause then take a deep full body breath, and feel your feet on the ground. Observe for a second what’s going on in your body. Center yourself with another breath, maybe observe, and then proceed. Doing that little action can get you back into this inquiry curiosity mode versus this reactive, “Would it be done?” That STOP reminds me of there’s this old Bob Newhart. He’s a psychiatrist. This woman comes in and she’s like, “I have this fear of dying or something.” I don’t remember what the story was. He’s like, “I have the solution. Just stop it.” He kept saying everything that they were talking to her, “Stop it.” It’s like a hilarious Bob Newhart little snippet, but it’s true because a lot of times we as human beings create this whole thing in our head. Before you know it, you’re like fighting someone in your head. You are like, “Stop it. You don’t have to go there.” It’s made up. I’m guilty of that. Sometimes my husband will say something and I’m like, “Why did you say that?” I have like this whole thing and he goes, “Where’d you get that from? That is not what I meant at all.” Now he’s like, “Just ask me.” Now I asked him. You don’t know where someone else is coming from and what’s beneath that iceberg? You could have said something horrible to them right before they saw you you’re still processing it. There is that iceberg too. There are always layers. Thank you so much for all of the information that you have provided us. Hopefully, we will be psychologically safe and the future in our corporate worlds. I truly believe that our 21st-century leadership requires this building in containing collaborative, resilient teams. I also think that readers are able to develop that reputation for building high-performance teams. It’s gold and it’d be their competitive advantage and secret weapon. Go for it. Thank you, Stephanie. Thank you.

Who knew that psychological safety is imperative for a high-functioning team? Stephanie says that there are four parts to psychological safety. Part 1) Inclusion and diversity where everybody wants to belong. Part 2) Attitude and failure. Meaning that if you make a mistake at work, how do they treat that mistake? Do they reprimand you or use it as a learning tool? Part 3) Your willingness to help others and to ask for help. Sometimes I think high-achieving individuals don’t want to ask for help because others may think that they’re not competent. Part 4) Have that open conversation. Everybody wants to be heard. Psychological safety is something that is going to be coming into the corporate world more and more. The other thing that she said was that women are taking the lead in leadership positions throughout leadership in organizations, which is incredible. Stephanie provides us with two tips. Tip Number 1) Educate yourself and your team on psychological safety. Taking that first step to create team guiding principles is key. Tip Number 2) As a leader, be intentional about every interaction that you have with your team. As a bonus tip, if you feel yourself getting in a reactive mode, use the STOP process that she describes, which is to Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and Pause. Stephanie also is providing us with her Quickstart Guide. She’s asking for our readers to send her a LinkedIn message. Her Quickstart Guide is going to give you some tips to start this process. She is going to be a huge change agent by bringing psychological safety to many corporations that she’s working with already. Remember to be brave, be bold, and take action. Until next time.  

Important Links

About Stephanie Fleming

NWB 50 | Psychological SafetyStephanie Fleming’s passion is guiding organizations and teams through challenging situations and change. She brings a combination of marketing, change management, and human-centered design to her approach, leveraging group behavior and dynamics to create the most impactful and sustainable results. Stephanie’s industry experience includes executive and P&L positions with start-ups, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies where she built a track record of creating high-performing, engaged teams in VUCA environments. Her quest to unearth barriers to successful strategy execution led her to team psychological safety – the biggest predictor of team effectiveness. She is part of the invitation-only first cohort in North America to complete training and become certified from The Fearless Organization in psychological safety team development. Her engagements integrate a team health approach to strategy development and execution, resulting in successful initiatives while building essential 21st century leadership skills.