Rethinking Psychological Safety: Moving Beyond Leaders as the Solution
Workplace spats, disputes and conflicts are common, with around half involving employees and managers. Psychological safety is often discussed as a solution to this and many more issues, with most experts recommending that leaders be responsible for fostering this culture. However, this approach may seem a little ironic, akin to the fox guarding the hen house.
Experts have chosen leaders as the solution to achieving a psychologically safe workplace because they are usually the gatekeepers to the workplace. Leaders have access to many team members and are in a prime position to facilitate cultural change. However, many experts who sell psychological safety books or workshops may have a conflict of interest when recommending leaders as the solution.
According to Mat Wallaert’s book Start From The End, the best approach to solving a behavior problem is to pick a behavior end that you want to achieve and then design your product intervention around that. In the case of psychological safety, many experts seem to have chosen the end goal of training leaders to: “Foster an environment that encourages their teams to speak up and collaborate more”.
However, this may not be the best solution, as management is often part of the behavior problem.
An alternative approach would be to focus on getting everyone in the team, including employees and leaders, to agree to a flat structure regarding misbehavior and how it is addressed. This is our approach to: “Provide a real-time intervention that protects everyone in the team when addressing misbehavior”. Called SpatzAI, it still needs testing using our minimum viable product (MVP).
The challenge now is how to get this intervention into the hands of leaders. One way is to take advantage of the laws being drawn up in Australia to protect workers’ psychosocial health and safety. Leaders may be compelled to use our intervention. With proper funding, we can develop a pilot testing plan to help leaders see the benefits of this approach and vouch for its implementation.
In conclusion, while many experts recommend that leaders be responsible for fostering psychological safety in the workplace, this approach may have too many conflicts of interest. Our alternative approach of getting everyone in the team to agree to a flat structure when addressing misbehavior may be the solution needed and a gamechanger. With the proper funding and a pilot testing plan, this approach can be implemented and provide a real-time intervention that protects everyone in the team when addressing misbehavior.
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