Updated: Jan 25
Why Relational Alignment Begins with Psychological Safety
There are many moving parts to consider when setting the intention to co-create an inclusive A-Player culture at work. Psychological safety is the foundation of these initiatives because it creates a positive culture where people feel safe expressing their thoughts, emotions, and ideas. A psychologically safe environment means people feel safe to learn, contribute, lean into challenges, learn from mistakes, and work through issues.
When two or more people gather to achieve a common goal or purpose, and there is an alignment of expectations, roles and responsibilities are clear, and the path ahead is clear and open to reveal the attainment of the vision. Once activated, a vision becomes like a homing signal, a beacon that lights the way when times get dark and when you feel out of your comfort zone.
Timothy R. Clarke, in his book, The Four Stages of Psychological Safety, says that “Psychological safety is a condition in which you feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, (4) safe to challenge the status quo–all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way”. (Clarke, Psychological Safety, 2).
Creating a psychologically safe environment is vital because it positively impacts cultural development. The difference between a workplace culture that evolves and one that deteriorates depends on the degree that psychological safety is missing. When people come together, some undercurrents may require great care to manage expectations, and encourage, cultivate, and nurture a safe space to open up the flow of communication. The strong bond of a conscious, collaborative community can grow. This can’t occur without psychological safety.
What Happens When Psychological Safety Is Missing?
In the book, “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team,” Patrick Lencioni describes five ways the lack of psychological safety shows up to work against co-creating an inclusive and collaborative culture. These deficiencies collectively create an environment that slowly undermines the fabric of culture over time, as well as dampens the morale of your people and organization. The five dysfunctions are:
Lack of Trust - Trust is the foundation of a collaborative community. A lack of trust develops when psychological safety is missing. (p. 43-44).
Fear of Conflict - Failing to build trust is damaging because it causes fear. If trust is developed in a team environment, this fear doesn’t grow. (p. 188)
Lack of Commitment - “A lack of healthy conflict is a problem because it ensures the third dysfunction of a team: ‘lack of commitment.’” When team members aren’t committed, the team can’t function. (p. 188-189)
Avoidance of Accountability - “Because of this lack of real commitment and buy-in, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction.” Not taking accountability creates a confusing environment, and the team can’t flourish (p. 189)
Inattention to Results - “Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the 5th dysfunction can thrive. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their divisions above the collective goals of the team” (p. 189).
3 Key Ways Psychological Safety Builds a Collaborative Community
1. Encourages Positive Communication that Inspires Loyalty
People tend to hold back and not communicate when psychological safety isn’t present. They refrain from speaking freely and sharing their thoughts. In doing so, their sense of loyalty dissipates. They want to do what they can to get through the project without upsetting anyone. This doesn’t do anything to inspire loyalty.
However, when psychological safety is present, people are more likely to speak freely and share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas in a psychologically safe environment. When a level of comfort is achieved, this creates an environment that fosters trust and, consequently, loyalty.
2. Discovers Hidden Talent and Insights to Develop Future Leaders
When psychological safety is not present, it could cause your brightest talent to play small and stay in the background. If your brightest talent is not feeling safe sharing their thoughts, ideas, and opinions, you will never know when your team members have new game-changing ideas to bring to the table. In an environment where psychological safety isn’t present, your team members may feel as if they are unable to contribute. They generally hold their thoughts, opinions, and ideas to themselves and refrain from speaking up.
3. Boosts Overall Performance and Raises the Collective Consciousness to a Higher Level of Mutual Trust and Relating
Creating an environment of psychological safety boosts overall performance because it inspires the best in people. When people feel psychologically safe, they can feel safe contributing to conversations and bringing their best selves to work. This creates an environment rich with creativity, where ideas can flow freely, and the group undercurrents reach a higher state of mutual trust because every team member feels valued.
How Psychological Safety Empowers The A-Player Adventure in HR
Like the hero’s journey, building a collaborative community requires perseverance, determination, and a willingness to take risks and try new things to succeed. It also requires a deep understanding of the challenges and needs of the team and the ability to adapt and respond to changing circumstances. Ultimately, the HR professional serves as a leader and guide, helping to shape and nurture the team’s culture and supporting team members as they work together to achieve common goals.
Co-creating an A-player culture is symbolic of obtaining the elusive “elixir” in the Hero’s Journey because it often feels impossible. A collaborative community creates next-level, inclusive leaders because humans tend to go above and beyond when they feel cared for and valued. Building a collaborative community within an organization can be similar to the hero’s journey in that it involves taking on a challenge and working to overcome obstacles to achieve a goal in what may seem like running against impossible odds. For HR professionals, this may involve doing an honest assessment to identify and address any cultural or structural barriers preventing team members from working effectively and implementing strategies to encourage collaboration and communication.
A collaborative community promotes a positive, inclusive, and supportive environment that allows A-Player team members to show up fully as their best selves to work together to achieve their best work. In a collaborative culture, team members are encouraged to communicate openly, share ideas, and support each other to achieve common goals. This type of culture is often associated with high-performing teams and organizations, as it can help to foster a sense of unity and purpose among team members and create an atmosphere of trust and respect.
Clark, Timothy R. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2020
Lencioni, Patrick. The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. Jossey-Bass. 2002