Perhaps one of the more complex of the five mindsets that leaders and their teams are being asked to adopt in support of the new Northwestern Medicine strategic plan is to be open to diverse perspectives and to build a culture of psychological safety. Here, Vice President and Chief Wellness Executive Gaurava Agarwal, MD, provides an overview of psychological safety, along with tips on how you can build a culture of psychological safety that will help your teams be successful on the journey to NM 2035.
To build a culture of psychological safety first requires understanding the term. “Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated — and in fact they will be rewarded — for speaking up with ideas, asking questions, being vulnerable, and sharing concerns or mistakes,” Dr. Agarwal explains.
To support your team members through change, you must provide them with the encouragement and psychological safety necessary to try new things. That means you need to reward vulnerability.
“People are human, and they are going to screw up, especially if you ask them to do something new,” says Dr. Agarwal. “The key concept in change management is understanding that there are going to be rocky starts and, in fact, things may even get a little worse before they get better. But on the other end, you're building a better organization and community with this new NM 2035 mission.”
Below are six tips to help you create a culture of psychological safety for your teams:
Model self-care and self-compassion. Take a moment to reflect on how you are doing. What resources do you need from your support systems, including your own leader, and how will you practice self-compassion during this change process? Modeling self-care is the best way to create a culture of well-being and generate the energy needed to execute change. To learn more about self-care, check out the Self-CareandStress Management classes in Learning and Performance.
Create an environment of inclusivity and belonging by showing respect for all team members, both for their similarities and their differences. Ask for feedback often, and take the time to explore diverse ideas and opinions. When you model inclusive behavior, others will follow suit. To learn more about how to encourage an inclusive team culture, sign up for the Inclusive Leader Workshop in Learning and Performance, and encourage team members to get involved in the NM Champion Network or anIGNITE group.
Show appreciation for people as individuals. This is different from recognition, which recognizes a specific task. While both are important, appreciation focuses on the individual and helps build that core value of trust. Check out the Creating a Culture of Appreciation training in Learning and Performance, and visit the Recognition & Appreciation page on NM Interactive for additional tools and resources to help you show appreciation for your team members.
Model vulnerability. As a leader, you can model vulnerability by asking more questions, operating from a position of curiosity, listening intently, and being honest about what you don’t know and the mistakes you’ve made. “People need to know that someone who has made mistakes is still rewarded and promoted in this organization, which is at the heart of psychological safety,” says Dr. Agarwal.
Be authentic. Try to be as authentic and transparent as possible in your communications with team members. “Obviously, there are things that every leader can't share fully,” Dr. Agarwal says. “But it’s important that we do our best to be authentic and transparent in our communications, bidirectionally.”
Set clear expectations around teamwork. Whether you are a leader of a new team or continuing with a mature team, it can be very helpful to revisit the expectations of how you will work together. This can be an opportunity to surface and get rid of harmful norms, and set new parameters on how you will work moving forward. To help you build an effective team, check out Creating High Performing Teams in Learning and Performance.
“NM is a culturally diverse organization, and this diversity enriches our lives and the care we are able to provide,” says Dr. Agarwal. “Make sure everyone on your team knows they are welcome and important, and reinforce that sense of belonging.”
To help prepare for the upcoming changes and support your teams throughout NM 2035, all leaders are encouraged to register for Leading Through Change and Transition and other change management courses available in Learning and Performance, as well as reviewing the many Change Management resources from the Project Management Office.