team communication

Why Diverse Teams Need Psychological Safety to Excel

We know that different perspectives and ideas lead to innovation and better performance. However, in practice, diversity can sometimes hurt team performance resulting in frustration or misunderstanding. Why is this so?

Diversity on its own is not enough, we also need enablers to optimise a team’s performance so they can leverage diverse perspectives, skills and knowledge in their team.

A recent study investigated varying degrees of diversity in 62 drug development teams at six large pharmaceutical firms. The results suggest that diverse teams need psychological safety to reach optimum performance.

Building Psychological Safety

Psychological safety, coined by Amy Edmondson, is the belief that one can speak up without the risk of punishment or humiliation. It is crucial that employees are not rejected or embarrassed for speaking up with their ideas, questions, or concerns. Psychological safety does not only benefit the organisation in terms of performance but ensures employee well-being as well.

There are three ways for diverse teams to build psychologically safe environments: framing, inquiry, and bridging boundaries.

Framing

Framing affects people’s opinions based on the context in which things are presented to them. Diverse teams will benefit most from these two frames: goals for the meeting and the value of expertise.

Frame meetings as opportunities for information-sharing. People seldom speak up during meetings especially when they believe decisions and judgments need to be made. If meetings are framed in a way that sharing ideas and information is the explicit goal and that others will listen to them, then they will be more willing to join conversations and dialogues.

Frame differences as a source of value. No one likes to be judged and ridiculed especially when they believe that they have no valuable ideas to offer. Framing the meeting by stating that differences in ideas and perspectives are a source of value can encourage more people to share their opinions.

Inquiry

There are gaps in our knowledge and understanding, especially in diverse teams. The best way to address this is to ask questions. When leaders have a sincere inquiry about people’s thoughts to listen thoughtfully to what they hear in response, then psychological safety in the team grows. The most effective questions are open questions that encourage more insight and broader perspectives rather than questions that limit conversations.

Bridging Boundaries

Although there is indeed a need to set healthy personal boundaries, individual team members also need to know how they can perform collaborative work through some degree of disclosure. Bridging boundaries refers to understanding and assessing common goals, resources, skills, and also obstacles that can improve team performance. Once established, it’s about working together to overcome these barriers.

Diverse teams need psychological safety to fuel healthy and effective communication through framing, inquiry skills, and bridging different perspectives which builds a healthier work environment and a more solid team experience.

This information was sourced from a brilliant article by Bresman & Edmondson in a recent HBR edition (March 17th 2022)

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