Managers are often nervous when it comes to psychological safety. There is an understanding that psychological safety can help people learn, but it is often confusing to managers. It is often asked “does this mean I cannot expect excellence because people are not held accountable for great results?”
Edmondson, a leader in the field of psychological safety, goes on to say that is is not a trade-off against accountability but rather they are two separate dimensions. Leaders who create psychological safety and hold their employees accountable for excellence are the highest performing. According to Edmondson, it is all about finding the balance, as illustrated in the image below.
If there is a lack of both psychological safety and accountability, people become apathetic and simply do what they need to do, without questioning anything nor striving for excellence.
If there is only psychological safety, you are creating a comfort zone where it is easier for people to raise their concerns and question the status quo, but without accountability it can result in people feeling too comfortable – which can lead to poor performance and a lack of motivation.
Holding people accountable is essential for getting the best from people, but without psychological safety it can create an environment characterised by stress and anxiety. In this zone, people are afraid to speak up, so they continue to strive for excellence, even if they believe something is incorrect or could be improved. This is what hinders learning.
The learning zone, also known as the high-performance zone, occurs when a team is free from anxiety, which allows them to strive for excellence without fear of repercussions.
Thus, it is important to note that having psychological safety within a team, does not mean that excellence has to be sacrificed. It is all about finding the fine balance between the two separate dimensions.
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