This isn’t the first time I’ve written about psychological safety, and it won’t be the last. (Read my previous post on this topic here.)
Psychological safety is the number one factor in team success, as proven in multiple important studies, including this famous study conducted by Google. To sum it up, “Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes,” according to Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson (1999).
Said another way, “It’s the collective understanding in a team or organization that there won’t be negative consequences to speaking up, questioning or challenging the way things are done.” -The Insights Group Ltd.
What Does Psychological Safety Have to do With the Olympics?
I’m a huge fan of the Olympics and have been beyond excited to watch the competition unfold each night. My favorite sports are swimming, diving, kayaking, surfing (which is new this year, and awesome!) and, of course, gymnastics.
You can imagine that I’ve been glued to the television as the story of Simone Biles withdrawing from the team gymnastics competition, and then the all-around competition, unfolded.
Simone withdrew knowing that her mental game was off and that she could rely on her teammates to step up… and they did, winning the silver medal in the team competition. Through it all, Simone remained on the sidelines, cheering and supporting her teammates, no matter what.
What an amazing role model she is for her athletic and her leadership abilities.
What really struck me was an interview on The Today Show with Aly Raisman, a member of the 2016 USA Gymnastics team, which won gold in Rio. Aly has been one of the most vocal gymnasts to speak out about convicted sex offender Larry Nassar, who abused members of the USA Gymnastics team while he was working as the team doctor. It took years for anyone to speak up, and Aly boldly led the way forward.
Aly commented that the environment within women’s gymnastics must have improved significantly for Simone to feel comfortable making such a big move. This seems pivotal to me.
Aly’s comments, combined with a LinkedIn post I saw from a former colleague who is the communications lead for USA Gymnastics, tell me that the organization has made big changes. My colleague publicly lauded Simone for setting a good example… recognition for her courage to withdraw wouldn’t have happened if the environment within USA Gymnastics hadn’t improved dramatically.
This situation reminds us that even the greatest athletes in the world are still just human beings. Sure, they happen to have exceptional talent, but they need the same things we all do to perform at their best, including an environment that cultivates psychological safety.
Create Psychological Safety Within Your Team
As a leader, it’s your role to create a team culture where psychological safety is embedded in everything you do.
Here are a couple of my favorite points from a fascinating Insights Discovery article titled 7 Ways to Really Create Psychological Safety:
Consider how you talk about failure.
Some may perceive Simone as a failure because she couldn’t show up when it mattered most. Others (myself included) see this as one of the greatest successes ever.
Of course, it’s heartbreaking that she didn’t get to compete. And yet, she knew that she would literally be risking her life should she choose to fly high in the air, twisting and turning, with an unfocused mind.
She put her mental and physical health first and showed up as the team leader she needed to be. Simone’s choice also gave her teammates the chance to show their depth and shine as they won multiple medals in the all-around and individual events.
Embrace dialogue and discussion.
The Insights article reads, “One study by Gallup found that only 30% of US workers believe their opinions matter at work.”
Ugh! Isn’t sharing your opinion exactly what you’re paid to do? As a leader, notice how much time you spend talking in meetings versus how much time you allow space for your team to share their views.
The best teams are ones where you can’t tell who the leader is because everyone has an equal voice that is valued and recognized.
I invite you to read the rest of the article to learn how to create psychological safety in your workplace. Continue to explore what it would look like to lift up your team members in a way that will leave them feeling heard and valued. Your team dynamics can only get better!