How Important is Psychological Safety for Ensuring Consistent Growth of Diverse Teams?
Diversity has become an important factor when it comes to building productive teams that continually create value. Executives in various fields find that diverse teams tend to outperform less diverse ones, especially when it comes to projects that require a high level of creativity and innovative thinking. The reason for this is simple: people from different backgrounds offer unique perspectives and ideas, highlighting issues that others may not see.
However, Harvard Business Review suggests that diverse teams often struggle to reach the same level of performance as homogeneous teams, mainly due to communication challenges. A common background means shared behavioral norms, values, and work ethic; whereas diversity can disrupt the collaboration process and create clashes that cause teams to fall behind on goals and deadlines. Research by Henrik Bresman and Amy K. Edmondson suggests that creating an atmosphere of psychological safety in the workplace is the key to maximizing mutual understanding and productivity of diverse teams.
Let’s take a closer look at the results of the study conducted in the pharmaceutical drug development industry. Teams with high levels of both diversity and psychological safety showed strong upward momentum in performance. On the contrary, diverse teams with lower psychological safety showed a negative performance dynamic. Another finding from the study is that, on average, respondents were less satisfied with their team the more diverse it was. In teams with a high level of psychological safety, the opposite was true: the satisfaction of the participants grew as the teams became more diverse. Thus, we can argue that psychological safety tends to help teams realize their full potential in both performance and well-being.
Is it easy to build a psychologically safe environment from scratch? No. Is it worth it? Definitely. There are several tools that can be helpful on your way to building a successful and effective team with a high level of diversity.
- Use meetings as an opportunity to openly share ideas and concerns. Instead of classifying meetings as a time for making decisions and associating them with judgment and evaluation, make this time an open and welcoming space. The more different points of view expressed, the greater the opportunity to find creative solutions and increase the level of inclusion.
- Make diversity a source of value. Frustration over differences and opinions is counterproductive. You can gain a lot more by incorporating these differences to come to a better understanding of the issues you are facing.
- Ask more questions and encourage people to speak up. Strong leadership can lead to higher levels of acceptance, inclusion, and collaboration. Listening to what others have to say and avoiding biased feedback is a great way to get a diverse team to work together in greater comfort.
- Empower the team through the ownership of common goals and objectives. This will help create unity and facilitate sharing of experiences among team members. Approaching and solving the tasks collectively, allowing everyone to contribute with their portfolio of skills and experience, will improve internal communication and the quality of results.
Diversity alone won’t increase a team’s performance; dedication and determination are needed to lead teams forward, maximizing their collective potential. Without psychological safety, it is difficult for team members to feel confident and make a personal contribution. Leadership and the team itself have a responsibility to create a climate where inclusion, equality and collaboration are not just empty words, but catalysts for a successful team experience.