When your colleagues feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking for help, or challenging the status-quo, it’s a great sign of a high-performing and healthy team. You may alread be familiar with this under the label ‘psychological safety’.
If you’re just getting started with this concept, there’s a TED talk here by Amy Edmondson, a leading researcher, with background and some tips from 7:30 onward on how to foster it.
Psychological safety has specific relevance now as you talk to your team about their working arrangements for the rest of the year.
As Edmondson and Mark Mortensen acknowledged in an article this month, discussions of psychological safety have typically focussed on the flow of work. For example, team members feeling comfortable critiquing each others’ decision-making (and yours), or putting forward unsolicited new ideas in meetings.
But over the past year, work and life have become so intertwined that managers increasingly need to have substantive discussions about both.
‘In the past, we’ve approached “work” and “non-work” discussions as separable, allowing managers to keep the latter off the table. Over the past year, however, many managers have found that previously off-limits topics like child care, health-risk comfort levels, or challenges faced by spouses or other family members are increasingly required for joint (manager and employee) decisions about how to structure and schedule hybrid work.’ Amy Edmondson and Mark Mortensen
If your workplace is going to continue offering remote work, particularly combined with an office, these conversations will continue and will only be effective if your team feels comfortable discussing these (sometimes very personal) details of their lives. This also has to come from the team member: both for legal and personal reasons just asking people to formally disclose information about their private lives invites allegations around bias and invasion of privacy.
So how can you as a manager encourage these positive discussions? Well just being aware of the potential sensitivity is a great start but Edmondson and Mortensen also have five suggestions:
By working on open conversations about remote work, you’ll make sure that you have the information you need for your team to be both effective and happy.
Demonstrating your commitment to helping them do their best work at your company might also help convince them that it’s the right workplace for them.