Does your team agree to disagree?

Psychological safety in high-performance teams

Danilo Ferreira
Oct 26 · 4 min read
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Imagine that you have an idea to solve a problem in your team. When you expose it, you receive the following response:

“I disagree. That is not going to work. Your idea sucks.”

Now, imagine that, even if it is an idea that will not work, your opinion is taken into account and debated, even by people who (respectfully) disagree with it. When you say what you think, you are neither punished nor ignored, nor are you at risk of having your colleagues laugh at you.

Even though it is discarded at the end of the day, the mere fact that your idea has been considered helps you to feel that you are in a safe environment to express yourself and feed essential debates.

That is what we call a psychologically-safe environment.

But what exactly is psychological safety?

You may never have heard of psychological safety, but I do not doubt that without it, work becomes a problem — uncomfortable in the short run and unsustainable in the long run.

Like emotional control, ethics, and other popular terms, psychological safety exists not only to ensure that people are in a friendly and supported environment.

Consequently, that environment brings people increasingly encouraged to engage in healthy and essential debates for the company.

The openness and acceptance of ideas are essential for the psychological safety of a team. New ideas are heard and not immediately judged within a transparent environment, and people feel more comfortable collaborating.

That alone does not mean that every idea will be accepted without the criticism being made. It does not mean running a hand over the heads of your co-workers and turning a blind eye to your delights. But this is where the advantage of a psychologically safe environment lies: even if someone disagrees with you and makes a mistake, things go well.

What is the role of psychological safety in the daily lives of high-performance teams?

Before you read on, let’s agree that the best human potential is generating ideas and the ability to turn them into things. When combined with teamwork, this potential has the power to transform projects and companies, taking them to a new level.

We will also agree that a team must always be debating to evolve.

For me, psychological safety is one of the most important topics for debate and teamwork, especially in high-performance teams. When put in a positive light, the ability to disagree is one of the significant gains that any team can benefit from.

When you disagree, it is not to ridicule or invalidate someone’s opinion. You add new potential to a debate, project, or idea and put new paths and possibilities on the table. And this is where great things can happen.

I have exercised this reflecting that I must be happier than sad every time someone disagrees with me because I am faced with an opportunity to do differently — and, who knows, better.

At these times, it is crucial to understand that different points of view come to broaden our vision. On the other hand, it is also fair to realize that no one must accept a point of view. When these two notions exist and are clear, you minimally guarantee psychological safety in your team.

How to bring psychological safety to your team?

I am not an expert on the topic, but I can share useful and straightforward things that help any team feel more secure to share ideas.

Start, for example, by eliminating some harmful actions, such as:

  • Point your finger at mistakes
  • Accusing people who don’t perform as much as we would like
  • Believe that, to grow, you must pull your colleague’s rug.
  • Instead of asking “who”, ask “why”.

In the book “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It,” Chris Voss comments on the emotions that lead people to follow reason. Without feelings, beliefs, hopes, vulnerabilities, joy, peace — among many others — it isn’t easy to follow logical reasoning.

I bring this statement here because only by understanding that we’re driven to avoid mistakes can we avoid toxic postures that prevent psychological safety from becoming a reality.

After we eliminate these attitudes, there are other things we can do to ensure a psychologically safe environment:

  • Focus on leadership: without leaders willing to resolve conflicts productively, psychological safety falls apart;
  • Focus on participation: involving people and making them feel important is the basis of psychological safety. Call people to meetings, ask for their opinion, praise their achievements;
  • Focus on recognition: when someone exceeds expectations and does a great job, don’t keep the compliments to yourself. Share!

No one is more willing to put their feelings in a box and only open it after business hours. To perform well, any team needs psychological safety. More than ever, feeling comfortable and embraced is essential.

What about you? What practices do you use to make your work environment psychologically safe?

*** More about the subject:

[1] High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It — Harvard Business Review

[2] Understand team effectiveness — re:Work

[3] The five keys to a successful Google team — re:Work

Danilo Ferreira

Blog sobre Danilo Ferreira

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