Emotional intelligence: How to create psychological safety for your IT team

Want a happier, more productive IT team? Focus on psychological safety. Consider this expert advice for leaders
3 readers like this.
crisis leadership how to create psychological safety

A feeling of psychological safety is essential for a healthy, productive team. When teams lack psychological safety, you may notice several adverse effects, including a lack of innovation, an inability to collaborate, and more.

A McKinsey survey on psychological safety and the critical role of leadership suggests that leaders can develop skills that foster a safe, high-performing work environment. It’s critical for you as an IT leader to understand and prioritize these skills.

3 barriers to psychological safety and the leadership skills to address them

Let’s take a closer look at common workplace barriers to psychological safety and how to address them.

Barrier: Doubt

Doubt is one of the most common barriers to psychological safety. The uncertainty of today’s world can easily pave the way for doubt, and the moment doubt begins to consume the mind, imposter syndrome soon follows.

Leadership skill: Ask reflective questions

One of the most important things a leader can do to combat doubt, which reflects limited thinking, is to ask reflective questions. Reflective questions can help you, as a leader, gain greater perspective, clarity, and insight. Remembering that you can’t ensure psychological safety for your team unless you feel it yourself, here are some questions to first ask yourself:

  • What is most alive in you – i.e., what drives and motivates you?
  • What inside you is resisting new possibilities?
  • What advice would your present-day self share with your five-years-ago self?
  • What advice would your five-years-from-now self share with your present-day self?

And here are some questions to ask your team to help foster psychological safety:

  • What is most alive in your team – i.e., what drives and motivates them?
  • What are the emerging possibilities in your team?
  • What is the team resisting?
  • What advice would your present-day team share with your one-year-ago team?
  • What advice would your one-year-from-now team share with your present-day team?

[ Also read Why IT leaders should prioritize empathy. ]

Barrier: Inability or apprehension to bring the whole self to work

When leaders or team members can’t or won’t bring their whole selves to work, they often feel like they are limiting their full potential or even pretending to be someone they are not. Pretending takes up tremendous energy, represses creativity, and diminishes team success.

Leadership skill: Cultivate compassion

The best leaders understand the complexities and imperfections of being human and are not afraid to present their true selves in the workplace. These leaders emanate compassion and encourage their team members to embrace and express their unique gifts and talents.

Compassion cuts through mental constructs and perceptions. It begins when leaders examine and undo traditional rules, roles, and narratives that limit their thinking, decision-making, and worldview. Freedom from outdated narratives enables release, self-acceptance, and permission to bring one’s whole self to the workplace.

Barrier: Self-righteousness

Leaders who are driven by the needs of the ego struggle to let go of outdated competence, values, and skills. Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on executive coaching, explains this perfectly in the title of his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. The compulsive need to be right becomes more important than discovering new horizons, untapped potential, and possibilities. Self-righteousness creates a division between the self and the team, eroding trust.

Leadership skill: Practice humility

Leaders who practice humility understand the value of being a lifelong learner and realize that teachings come from many walks of work and life.

Leaders who practice humility understand the value of being a lifelong learner and realize that teachings come from many walks of work and life.

Humility begins with examining the need to be right and the fear of being wrong. When leaders normalize being wrong, the team climate shifts from one of power and control to one of creativity and open communication. Humble leaders create an environment where people are free to express themselves constructively, accept each other, respect differences of opinion, celebrate differences, collaborate, and think innovatively for the growth of the organization.

Leadership development through self-awareness

Exploring inner wisdom, cultivating compassion, and exercising humility all require self-awareness. While learning from books and thought leaders provide information, learning from direct experience and reflection provides insights for real change.

Psychological safety is the key to unlocking a team’s optimal performance. When teams feel safe, they are motivated and eager to take on new challenges. As psychological safety becomes a strategic driver, the workplace will increasingly become a fertile ground for extraordinary results.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of celebrating both individual work and teamwork. Ensure that all your team members are seen, heard, and celebrated. The number one thing to celebrate is learning, especially when things are not working – a learning-focused mindset invites rich discussions, uncovers potential blind spots, and generates new thinking, insights, and perspectives.

When leaders consider their teams’ journey just as important as their results, creating psychological safety will become second nature.

[ Communication is a two-way street. Download our Ebook for essential lessons to get you started. ]

Neerja Arora Bhatia specializes in evolutionary leadership coaching and facilitation, inviting leaders and teams to step into their inner wisdom and power. Her publications, “Art of Resilience” and “Bliss is in Knowing the Self”, showcase her unwavering belief in the extraordinary ability of individuals to be great leaders.