Psychological safety: an enabler to build Business Agility

One of our key observations of the past decade is the increasing importance of multidisciplinary collaboration. Multidisciplinary teams are being deployed to solve complex and ever-changing problems in this new interdependent and uncertain world. On average, employees today spend 50% more time collaborating than 20 years ago. In order to do so effectively, radical transparency, continuous improvement and iteration is more important than even in our way of working in order to stay ahead.

These preconditions are the base of the agile way of working. Building Business Agility can be defined as the ability to respond quickly and successfully to market opportunities and threats. To build Business Agility successfully and sustainably, fundamental organizational change is required for which we defined six shifts (for more information read our article the principled approach to building Business Agility). The required shift in culture when building Business Agility is described follows: from trying new things periodically to embracing uncertainty and experimentation. When looking close, it becomes clear that psychological safety is an essential enabler in the transformation towards Business Agility. Without psychological safety, experimentation will definitely stay out. To grow along the different maturity levels of building Business Agility (from a traditional organization, to doing agile, being agile and even complete enterprise agile), the teams and the organization as a whole develop a mindset of continuous learning and experimentation.

As we mentioned in our previous article (3 tips to boost psychological safety in the workplace) one way to boost psychological safety is to set up a structure for participation of the team. This is exactly why there are ceremonies in the agile way of working. A first step towards building Business Agility is to experiment with doing agile through structured learning methods (the ceremonies). An example of a ceremony is a retrospective. A retrospective is a structure where every 2 to 4 weeks, there is a moment to look back and reflect on what went right and what went wrong in order to learn and grow as a team. All team members are invited to give honest feedback about the teams’ performance and to admit mistakes in a safe context. The reason behind it is to be able to experiment, fail fast and iterate to have a continuous learning loop and to innovate. This planned structure stimulates employees to put themselves out there through asking questions, voicing ideas and giving candid feedback. This belief, the belief that it’s safe to take interpersonal risks in the workplace, is the core of psychological safety.

Hence, psychological safety is an enabler to building Business agility. Interestingly however, building Business Agility can also build psychological safety. Ways to boost psychological safety include making explicit that failure and uncertainty is normal and part of the job as well as welcoming participation and feedback. The view that failure and uncertainty is normal is the cornerstone of the agile way of working and the structure of retrospectives is one great example of welcoming participation and feedback.

Would you like to know more about how to build Business Agility through psychological safety? Contact our experts: Roosmaryn Spliet (r.spliet@samhoud.com) or Koen Husmann (k.husmann@samhoud.com). For more information about building Business Agility in your organisation, contact the Nienke Huijs (n.huijs@samhoud.com) or Pascal Steeghs (p.steeghs@samhoud.com).

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