Openness, Trust & Psychological Safety
Openness is at the core of the concept of psychological safety. This concept was spoken about by Harvard’s Amy Edmondson in a 1999 journal article where she spoke of it in context to team learning and performance. She defined it as an absence of interpersonal fear and where people can speak up about work-related topics without any fear of retaliation of any kind.
Also, teams thrive when there is trust and people can count on others to behave in ways that are reliable and, in many ways, predictable and favorable to one’s interest. Vulnerability is at the core of both concepts of trust and psychological safety and both concepts have positive implications for team outcomes.
To foster a culture where both Trust and Psychological Safety flourish, it is imperative to weave in openness. This includes creating a culture where information is shared openly, employees are aware of happenings, and most importantly feel that they are heard. It is also about creating an environment where employees feel that it is safe for them to share what they want to and that there is someone listening who has the willingness and the authority to act upon it as needed. Openness in culture can also imply that there is acceptance of individual differences and diversity.
So how does one create this culture of openness? What are some tangible and concrete actions that one can take to promote this at a team level?
One of the core fundamentals of conscious leadership in actions linked to above-the-line behaviors. This essentially implies being open, curious and committed to learning. It’s about welcoming feedback, helping others find their answers, not blaming, and moving above the victim mentality. Its about constructive action and a solution mindset.
When managers take actions that are centered around above-the-line behaviors, they automatically promote a culture where people feel encouraged to do the same. Behavior role modeled is what people down the line observe and emulate. It sets the tone for what is the unstated norm in a sense and promotes culture building. It is important that managers or leaders talk about this in public forums, take actions that are aligned to their words, and role model these behaviors.
So what are some actions that team managers can take which in turn build an environment centered around openness?
1. It is vital to have two-way communication. For people to be able to both speak and receive communication at all levels. One way to do this is to actively solicit feedback and suggestions. Also to have tools and processes that enable that – such as surveys, town halls, discussion forums, etc
2. What do you do with information that travels upwards? Reflect on how do you treat feedback, ideas, and suggestions. Are they relegated to the recycle bin, are they acknowledged, are they rewarded?
3. Create a space that is non-threatening and welcoming. Create spaces to share criticism, create safe whistleblowing avenues, publicly acknowledge, and reward ideas
4. Display sensitivity – show genuine respect, concern, and empathy to employees. Understand individual apprehensions and challenges and show a willingness to work with them for win-win solutions
Edmondson, A. (1999) ‘Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams’, Administration Science Quarterly 44: 350–83.
Edmondson, A. C. (2004) ‘Psychological Safety, Trust, and Learning in Organizations: A Group-Level Lens’, in Kramer, R. M., Cook, K. S. (eds) Trust and Distrust in Organizations: Dilemmas and Approaches, pp. 239–72. New York: Russell Sage.
Mackey, J., & Michael, P. (2020). Conscious leadership: Elevating humanity through business. Unabridged. New York: Penguin Audio.
About the Author:
Dr. Shalini Duggal
Dr. Shalini Duggal brings with her more than 18 years of work experience in the area of Talent Transformation. She has a PhD in Psychology from IIT Delhi and has completed her MA from Delhi University and BA (h) from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, both in the area of Psychology. She has worked extensively in the areas of Leadership Development, Organization Development & Leadership Assessment across industries such as Digital Imaging, IT, Consulting, Insurance & Education Management