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If You Want an Invincible Team, Make Them Feel Safe

If You Want an Invincible Team, Make Them Feel Safe

If you are a team leader, it is possible you may have come across one or more of the following problems:

  • Members of your team rarely attend meetings, and if they do seem to be uninspired or lacking in energy. This can render meeting utterly useless.
  • You may find that your team has trouble coming up with any new, interesting, or alternative ideas or solutions. There may be a real lack of critical thinking in your team.
    This can kill productivity.
  • During meetings or discussions, some members may remain quiet, or if they do speak may allude to there being a problem somewhere,but never specify what it is.
    This may mean serious issues in your team may go unresolved, massively affecting the functioning of your team.
  • If you want to see if your team agrees to something, you might feel that some are merely agreeing for the sake of agreement. This could be a real problem as these people might have great ideas.

Any one of these can prove extremely problematic, more than one of these can be potentially disastrous.

All is not lost however, these issues, and more, often stem from the same issue, and with that issue identified, it can be resolved.
The issue is this, the team suffers from a lack of Psychological safety.

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What is psychological safety?

    Psychological safety is the (often shared) belief that the team is an environment where it is safe to take risks. To share ideas and speak openly without fear of criticism or ridicule.

    Years ago, Google began Project Aristotle,[1] a project to determine how to engineer the most effective team possible. Google spent years studying 180 different teams in detail. Their research was so detailed that they even kept track of how often the team members ate together. In this project Google learned a great deal about how effective teams function. One thing that they noticed, is that key to almost all successful teams, is that they were environments of psychological safety.

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    As each team member felt free to contribute and speak up, they became hotbeds of ideas, team members were much less likely to leave, and ultimately, were more successful. All because of psychological safety.

    Benefits of psychological safety

      The key benefit of psychological safety is that it fosters and encourages collaboration and interaction in the team.

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      It can often be difficult to tell at first if an idea you have is any good. Someone may have a fantastic idea but might not speak up about it out of fear that they will be embarrassed. If your team is in an environment that people feel comfortable to speak freely in, they will naturally begin to produce ideas. Some ideas will be better than others of course (but even bad ones may be improved in an effective team). Ten bad or mediocre ideas are better than no ideas at all.

      In psychologically safe teams, people won’t fear making mistakes so much, and with this, even if they make mistakes, they’ll be more likely to learn from them, increasing their future effectiveness.

      Consider brainstorming, (or even improv comedy!), the reason why it’s so popular, is because they foster psychologically safe environments. Think about it, in an effective brainstorming session, every member of the team is contributing, soon you might have dozens of ideas and plans made where before you only had a handful. Sure not all of these ideas may be workable, but their sheer existence demonstrates that each member of the team feels they can contribute, they feel included.

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      However, if before one person came up with a bad idea that was shot down and overly criticized, they may be less likely to speak up in the future, even if they have a potentially groundbreaking idea. As such, it’s difficult to go wrong with a psychologically safe team.

      All that is needed is for people to feel that they can speak up, even voice criticisms if they have them. People will engage in a team more if they feel a part of it, and that they are shaping it, and who knows, maybe in their critique is an idea that will massively increase the effectiveness, and with it, the success of your team.

      But where do you start?

      It all starts with you.

      Psychological safety is not something that can appear organically by itself out of nowhere. If the team environment is not psychologically safe, then the team leader must work hard to make it a safe environment. Here are some tips to get you on your way:

      • Lead by example. Become a model of what you think the ideal team member should be, if nobody else speaks, ask people things, keep encouraging people to interact with the group. Make sure this is done in a friendly way though, otherwise people might only say what they think you want them to say.
        Essentially, ask a lot of questions.
      • Don’t cut off conversation. If someone is speaking, or a few people have a good conversation going, let it flow naturally.
        To cut off the conversation will give the impression that people are not allowed to speak freely, and thus you’ll be back at square one.
      • If speak following something, make sure to summarize it in your own words, and if you think you misunderstood what some one says, ask for clarification. This will demonstrate that you are listening and care about what they have to say.
      • Never respond judgmentally. If someone feels that you are critical of their opinion, they will no longer give it, and thus the environment will once again become a psychologically unsafe one.
      • Don’t be an overlord. It is important to come across as someone who makes mistakes, someone human. Even something as simple as saying, “sorry, I might have missed something” will help build a stronger connection with your team members than if you just used your authority.
        It’s game over if your team members begin to resent working too.

      With these tips you should be well on your way to making your team a more effective, dynamic, and more successful than it has ever been.

      Reference

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Last Updated on October 22, 2020

      How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

      How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

      Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed, and exhausted. Therefore, if you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, it’s time to do something about it.

      Here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm, leaving you calmer, in control, and a lot less stressed at work.

      1. Write Everything Down to Offload Your Mind

      The first thing you can do when work feels overwhelming is to write everything down that is on your mind.

      Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s occupying your thoughts[1].

      For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind, write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind.”

      The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will help you stop feeling overwhelmed at work. Writing things down can really change your life.

      2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

      Once you have emptied your head, go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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      As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

      Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. You can learn how to create a more meaningful to-do list here.

      3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

      Here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago to help when work feels overwhelming. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and we humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take[2]:

      When feeling overwhelmed at work, use Parkinson's Law.

        This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad. It’s more wishful thinking than bad judgment.

        We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage when we’re feeling overwhelmed at work. If you have estimated that to write five important emails will take ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

        Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is that you put yourself under a little time pressure, and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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        When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time, so it plays tricks on us, and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our team members to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

        Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening, and we get more focused and more work done. This will help when work feels overwhelming.

        4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

        Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos to avoid getting overwhelmed at work. Schedule time for each task, especially high priority tasks, while also grouping together similar tasks. This will help relieve stress and anxiety in your daily work life.

        For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

        Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done, and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer, and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

        5. Make Decisions

        For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one[3]. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

        If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend, or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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        If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss or a colleague and get advice.

        Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away and will only make you feel more overwhelmed at work. You need to make a decision to deal with it, and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved.

        I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed, and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend about the problem.

        He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem, and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I pay a smaller amount for a couple of months.

        This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

        The first was: don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second: there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

        6. Take Some Form of Action

        Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we are feeling overwhelmed at work (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

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        The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

        It also means that, rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible, and you can make decisions about what to do about them.

        Often, it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be that you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

        When work feels overwhelming, it’s not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work. It can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

        The Bottom Line

        It’s easy to feel like you have too much on your plate, but there are things you do to make it more manageable. 

        Make a decision, even if it’s just talking to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution.

        When you follow these strategies, you can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

        More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

        Featured photo credit: Josefa nDiaz via unsplash.com

        Reference

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