a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as "being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career" (Kahn 1990, p. 708). In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. It is also the most studied enabling condition in group dynamics and team learning research.
I have been incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to start and lead a small business over the last seven years in the Washington, DC area. Professionally, it has been the greatest thrill of my life to see God call me into entrepreneurship and then bless in extraordinary ways. While there are many exciting aspects to growing an enterprise like acquiring new customers, improving our solution, moving into better offices; nothing excites me quite like seeing my staff grow in their ability and individual confidence. In fact, the progression of maturity and confidence within an AlphaBrook employee from Day 1 to Day 365 is remarkable. The responsibility I feel as an employer for helping employees reach their career goals and dreams is crushing, and something I take very seriously. I love all of my employees and want AlphaBrook to be a place where they can spread their wings and reach new heights. Their happiness and fulfillment is something I think about often.
I realized after our first few hires that some of our employees were coming from companies where they had apathetic or even harsh leaders who had managed them. In many cases, these were leaders who were moody or quick to blame their staff for anything that went wrong in the day to day tasks. For employees who come from these situations, it gives me goosebumps to think about how we rebuild and empower them. It's my absolute favorite thing to do in business, even more so than landing a new customer. For me, there is no professional joy quite like giving the gift of psychological safety to an employee.
Inevitably, at some point within the first 90 days of a new employee's start with us, something always happens - they make a mistake that requires a fix. The mistakes vary, it could be miscommunication to a client, or maybe they draw the wrong conclusion on a task or accidentally send an email to the wrong company. In instances where I get pulled in to help strategize on resolving these issues, the employee is always visibly nervous. I have seen shaking, crying, nail-biting, playing with hair, looking at their feet, you name it! They have no idea how I will respond. They are scared silent because the "CEO" is involved, little do they realize that they are part of a special family...and I just go by Matt.
This will make me sound like a weirdo, but I LOVE THESE MOMENTS.
I love these moments because it's my chance to show them that people are more important than the business. It is my first chance to start rebuilding them, to begin the empowerment process. It is our chance to show them that they are more valuable to us than their most recent mistake. When you join our family, you immediately receive grace because you are now an AlphaBrookian! In most cases the employee mistake was not intentional, the person is usually trying to help the business, or maybe they even took a risk on something new in pursuit of efficiencies or better results. In these situations, not only do we give grace for the mistake, we've even given bonuses to the person who made a mistake, or we will provide a clap out (everybody claps to recognize an individual's effort, regardless of the outcome). To me, there is nothing more satisfying than watching an employee walk out of my office rewarded for taking a risk when five minutes prior they were worried about their job security. Over time, this type of approach builds trust, loyalty and encourages reasonable risk-taking. Mistakes are no longer somebody's fault (assuming it was unintentional) but rather an opportunity to fix our process or learn something new. I also believe that the human response to forgiveness is incredible. If people were constantly reprimanded for everything that goes wrong, they might feel that they "got what they deserved" and that the mistake justified the lashing. However, when grace is given, people are even more grateful and will work even harder as a way of saying thank you for being gracious. Psychological safety within teams is so important, and it's a beautiful picture of God's grace and forgiveness as well. There is no better example of God's love within the workplace.
In conclusion, psychological safety is not just for the workplace; it's also meant for our most sacred and valuable relationships. It's the freedom we give to those we love to be themselves around us. It means we don't overanalyze things that are said to us from those who love us the most, even if something could be misinterpreted. It means our friends and family do not have to be politically correct with us; they can joke, laugh, be sarcastic, and even disagree - all judgment free - because we love them and we know they love us. They can let their hair down knowing that they are part of the team and safe with us. It also means we think the best of others and avoid assuming negativity from their words. In all of my closest relationships within life, a great deal of psychological safety exists.
If someone has given you the invaluable blessing of psychological safety, do not take it for granted. More importantly, regardless of whether you have received it or not, work on giving it to others and watch how your relationships transform.