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Building a High Performance Team - Pt. 1: Psychological Safety

By: Nextech | April 22nd, 2021

Building a High Performance Team - Pt. 1: Psychological Safety Blog Feature

There is far more to successfully running a practice than just EHR and Practice Management solutions. While there are many management and leadership studies out there, far too few of them actually deal with the nuances that leaders deal with at practices day to day. Your practice is also a business, and like a business it needs an effective team.

In this two-part blog series, we will give insight into how our readers can set the stage for a high performing team as well as provide an action plan for implementing one. Creating the correct office culture is something that takes time and focused attention. However, once a foundation is set, it will build upon itself. First you must assess your current culture and make changes as needed to build an environment of psychological safety. Therefore, in this first installment, we will examine the impact of psychological safety as well as offer action items on how to build it in your team.

Importance of Psychological Safety

Let’s begin by taking a look at Google’s famous research into teamwork and performance. In academic circles, Google’s “Re:Work” research is seen as the gold standard for solid data on how to put teams together and have them work together in an effective way. Dubbed “Project Aristotle,” they studied 180 teams over a two-year period to see if they could codify how to create the perfect team.

What Google found during their research was that the highest performing teams have the following in common:

  1. Dependability. Team members get things done on time and meet expectations.
  2. Structure and clarity. High-performing teams have clear goals and well-defined roles within the group.
  3. Meaning. The work has personal significance to each member.
  4. Impact. The group believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good.
  5. Psychological Safety. This turned out to be the most important factor. In everyday terms, “psychological safety” means that team members feel free to express new ideas or challenge when things are being done wrong without the fear of repercussions. In fact, in a group that has high psychological safety, this type of expression is encouraged and even celebrated!

Assessing Psychological Safety

In order to assess where your practice stands with psychological safety, answer the following questions honestly. If you answer yes to all of these, then you’ve got a great starting point. If not, you should consider what it would take to change those answers to “yes” as part of the action plan we’ll discuss later.

  1. If something wrong was taking place in the office, would every team member feel comfortable bringing it to your attention or the doctor’s attention if they discovered it?
  2. If someone on the team had an idea for how to change something in the workflow to make it better, would everyone feel comfortable sharing it in a staff meeting?
  3. Is everyone on the team viewed by everyone else as positive contributors to the group?

If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, it’s important to understand why so you can begin working on turning it to a “yes”. If you are in a leadership role at your practice, know that it is your responsibility to build a sense of psychological safety within your team. Let’s look at some ways to accomplish this.

How to Build Psychological Safety

As already explained, you need to reach the point where you are building psychological safety. But how?

First and foremost, it is crucial to begin by assuming your team is always acting with the best intentions. More often than not, when mistakes are made or people act wrongly, it is not because they intended to do so. As leader, it is important for you to first understand what their intentions were and what they were thinking. By listening closely to your team as they explain these things, you can identify coaching opportunities. Be curious in this process by entering the conversation with the goal of understanding why. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

Lead your team with a sense of vulnerability. Be sure your staff know that they are not alone. If you have made a similar mistake in the past, or if you can understand the reason that they made a poor decision, show empathy before you offer criticism. Often people will feel far more comfortable in talking openly about a situation if you are being open and vulnerable with them, as opposed to being critical or angry. Show your staff that they have a safe space to be open and honest with you by first doing so with them. No one is perfect, not even the team leader.

The same philosophy also applies to the sharing of ideas. You should encourage your team to share their ideas by responding with recognition of and rewards for positive ideas. Creating an environment that fosters the open sharing of new ideas will give your staff a sense of ownership in the results of their work. Your attitude should be that there is no such thing as a bad idea, and that something good can be found in every idea that is shared by a member of your team.

Psychological Safety is Only the Beginning

While building an environment of psychological safety amongst your team is important, it is not the only element for building a high perming team in your practice. In the next segment of this blog series, we will look at how understanding the values of your practice and setting the right level of expectations can help you become a more efficient manager.

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