Once they have the blessed “a-ha!” moment and understand the concept -often after we drive the point home by asking them to think of “team” as “family”- some people ask how come this can be a matter of discussion and how can something as fundamental as ensuring the team has psychological safety not simply be common sense.
The answer is: “It’s complicated”.
- First and foremost – we live in a world where “saying hello” would significantly improve engagement. It is that bad. – A recent report found that simply greeting one’s team makes a difference to their engagement level. Considering that truly gifted people leaders have a mental count of the wellbeing of each of the members of their immediate team and are able to ask engaging and probing questions and build deep rapport what does it say about the majority of team leads if even the “good morning” is missing?
- The concept of “team” is nearly non-existent. In most companies, the focus is on the “organisation” or the individual and not on the idea of “team”. When it is ever mentioned and discussed it is in the context of the mandated group or structure i.e. a department or a business unit and not the true meaning of a close-knit group working on a common problem with a shared purpose and goal which can transcend the structure. Without the concept of team, we can have no “bubble”, no sense of family and in its absence, we can have no Psychological Safety.
- The other major culprit for the sad state of affairs we collectively find ourselves in is that the idea of being “professional” is equalled to being unemotional. Somehow, for reasons that can be only partly explained in the evolution of knowledge organisations, it has become an overt yet unspoken rule that emotions have no place at work. Humans are supposed to interact in unfeeling, exclusively rational ways, or at least display none of the emotions that would come naturally to them while in the office. In addition to being a contrived and morally bankrupt stance, the requirement of repressing one’s emotions and refraining from being authentic and honest is a demonstrably dangerous desideratum which makes workers sick and therefore loses companies money.
- Being a leader is ill-understood and reduced by being a middle manager focused on command and control in lieu of aspiring to be a servant-minded Counsellor Troy or at least a helper, a coach, a mentor, a friend and a family member. As a result, the enterprise gives them no training and no time to focus on people so it is no wonder that in this recent Monster survey 75% of respondents think of their manager as toxic whether it’s because they perceive them as power-hungry, incompetent or a micro-managing. When it comes to common sense in as far as leading is concerned, everyone immediately instinctively reacts to the difference between being a leader and being a manager in theory, and yet in practice, the existent culture is sorely prevalent and utterly paralysing.
- An overall lack of focus on people from the part of the organisation. At a macro-level, the above are the results of longstanding organisational illness where a culture of unquestioning subordination has called for no learning, curiosity, purpose, challenge or passion. For all the lip service to engagement, inclusion and wellbeing the reality is that most enterprises fail to deeply care about their employees.
So in essence – yes, instilling, preserving and increasing psychological safety should be common sense, in particular, considering at the most basal level if simply means you can interact with others in a group without the fear of being ridiculed or punished, but realistically it is not.
Thankfully we have every reason to be optimistic that this shall change, seeing how now we find the dialogue around it has opened and more and more evidence appears to show organisations that it’s not a moral nice-to-have, but a business imperative linking directly to the bottom line in this new VUCA world.
As soon as we manage to clearly and loudly communicate to the enterprise that it pays to have common sense, truly care about people and be human at work, we’ll all be better off.