Thursday, 15 April 2021 08:07

Trust and Psychological Safety, the Two Building Blocks for High-Performance Teams in a Time of Detachment

Programmes like Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts have not only made remote work possible but also kept us connected socially during this pandemic. Video conferencing proved to be a vital lifeline in both our professional and personal lives. However, virtual meetings do take their toll and have their downfalls. It not only exhausts our mental health but also deteriorates our trust and our psychological safety within the workplace.

In a recent article published on bbc.com by Hannah Hickok she states “Under better circumstances, trust begets trust; at the moment, experts are finding that the reverse is true. Without in-person interactions to bolster our professional relationships, there’s more room to make negative – often unfounded – assumptions about our colleagues’ behaviours and many supervisors haven’t been trained to manage a team remotely, causing them to fall into the trap of over-monitoring employees, which tends to backfire. All these factors are creating a cycle of virtual workplace distrust that’s exacerbated by pandemic fatigue and the struggle to sustain our mental health amid an extended period of uncertainty.”

Psychological safety is needed for trust to be built and maintained within the workplace. It is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Employees who feel psychologically safe, are not afraid of negative consequences like being criticized, ignored, laughed at, or punished. High-performing teams need psychological safety to build trust in this time of detachment called remote work. Furthermore, when people feel accepted and respected, they bring their best selves to work.

Why trust is vital within a team and workplace during remote work?

Trust is not something that is built within a few hours or days. It takes time. But trust can easily be broken within seconds. A distrustful workforce reduces productivity, innovation fades away and motivation disappears. While we were going to the office and casually walking past or talking to our colleagues in the corridors, we never realised how these subtle encounters, made us develop trust for each other.

Suddenly we are becoming judgemental and have no more empathy for our colleagues. Our minds become negative and suspicious because we can’t seem to picture our co-workers in their own environment and with their own challenges. Why? Simple…we are finding ourselves in detached work relationships because for an hour or so when we are in the meeting, that is all interaction that we have with them. When you “leave” that meeting, you opt out, so to speak, to face your own challenges. You are not around to see them in distress or see them laugh. You are more reluctant to show empathy because you feel detached. Relationships need work and need in-person time together, even as work colleagues.

Virtual meetings can’t replace the value of in-person human interactions. Through upskilling your managers in things like, for example, how to successfully manage teams remotely, leaders can ensure inclusion, acceptance, self-awareness, and can empathise when team members are stressed, anxious or feel burned out. That is why we must work harder to establish trust now from afar through creating Psychological Safety within our work teams.

How can managers create psychological safety?

In a previous article called “How Leaders can Develop High-Performance Teams using ‘Psychological Safety’”, we explore 5 ways leaders can increase Psychological Safety in order to create high-performance teams:

  1. Self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence

An emotionally intelligent and self-aware leader promotes self-awareness among their team members. They don’t lead from their own point of view but from the point of view of their team members empowering them with confidence and promoting trust.

  1. Effective Communication, Feedback and Active Listening.

Create a workplace environment where it is okay to “speak up”. Your team should feel safe to talk about anything, ask questions and engage with one another. Promote curiosity, conversation, and participation during meetings. Practice active listening and provide them with continuous and constructive feedback. Refrain from negatively criticizing them.

  1. Motivation and Team building

Create a positive and safe environment within the workplace. Condemn negative things like office politics or gossiping. This breaks morale, trust, respect, motivation and will divide the team. Negative vibes are contagious. Promote positive outlooks and compliments and through this become your team members’ cheerleader.

  1. Problem-Solving and Decision-making 

Interpersonal risk-taking like sharing ideas, opinions etc., without the fear of humiliation or some form of punishment forms the core of psychological safety in the workplace. Errors, conflict and problems are inevitable when you have a team of people who are human and diverse. Redirect the team’s focus on finding positive solutions through promoting sharing their experiences and creative ideas. Nothing destroys Psychological Safety in a team like reacting aggressively and negatively in the case of errors and conflict.

  1. Rethink Hiring and Skills Development

Hire people who will fit in well with the company’s culture. Don’t only look at their technical skills but evaluate if they have the critical soft skills. If you regularly upskill your people, it will enable them to practically apply the knowledge and skills within their teams which will help them feel safe in the work environment. If team members feel confident in their skills, they are more easily trusted and automatically feel safer.

In a nutshell, if a team has a safe-circle-of-friends to be yourself, get support and acceptance and who basically knows what makes you tick; you will trust them easier, and naturally have a strong sense of Psychological Safety within that team. In turn, this will increase higher performance and assist with connecting the team members on a deeper level.

How to upskill company managers in the art of Trust and Psychological safety to Create High-Performance Teams?

The Mindspa Institute is a national and international soft skills training company that specialises in upskilling management. They offer a newly created interactive workshop called Trust and Psychological safety, Building Blocks for High-Performance Teams. This powerful workshop will enable delegates to understand the building blocks of psychological safety and trust and how to use these tools to ensure that their teams continue to perform during this time.

Workshop Outline will include:

  • What is psychological safety?
  • Project Aristotle’s Key Characteristics of High-Performing Teams
  • 7 ways to create psychological safety in your workplace
  • Unpacking the two types of trust in a team: Practical Trust and Emotional Trust
  • How to use The Trust Equation
  • How to build trust in your team using Credibility, Intimacy and Self-Orientation