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Encouraging psychological safety to empower high performing teams

The financial services sector is changing rapidly. New technology and new ideas regarding what banking could and should be about are emerging all the time. It’s vital that we keep pace and that our service is always exceeding customer expectations.

Moving at such a pace can be challenging, and our teams are increasingly employing agile methods to get new product and services ideas fully developed, thoroughly tested, and successfully launched, to meet demand.

Agile working gives everyone a chance to contribute during the lifespan of a project, so it’s vital that we have a working environment of ‘psychological safety’ in which everyone feels able to speak up and give their ideas, without reticence or worry.

We recently explored the topic of psychological safety in a Workplace webinar, hosted by our People Strategy and Insights Manager Louise Wilson, and featuring representatives from several different teams.

What is psychological safety?

In a psychologically safe workplace people are free from fear and don’t feel they need to try and cover their tracks to avoid being embarrassed or punished. Dr Anna Koczwara, our Head of Behavioural Science, emphasised the importance psychological safety has for enabling a team to successfully take risks, innovate and learn and this is why we are exploring it more in the bank.

We rely on the ability and dedication of our teams to make sure we are innovating and moving forward, and we’re increasingly using agile methods as we transform into the digital bank of the future. Louise explains more, “If we think about where we are as an organisation, we’re in a complex organisational transformation, and we see much more by way of agile working, working at pace and delivering, and that makes psychological safety even more important.

“We have to rely on one another even more, we have to share knowledge, we have to make quick decisions, we are motoring quickly. Knowledge isn’t power, it’s what we do with that knowledge that’s important, collaboration and knowledge sharing is more important than it’s ever been.

“In the past, by the very nature of the way that a great many businesses set themselves up, divisions between different roles and responsibilities were created, but we’re relying on the power of our people to really work together in teams and deliver value to our customers.”

We’re empowering our teams to deliver value to our customers in a number of ways: by streamlining processes; being creative and innovative; identifying risks and opportunities; removing pain points; learning all the time. Therefore, we have to unlock more ideas and collaborate more than ever before.

As Louise says, “At the heart of this is people feeling safe and equipped to bring their whole and their true selves to work.”

High Performing Teams and psychological safety triggers

We’re proud of the support we provide to everyone here to build a career. We offer exceptional levels of training and development, from day one. We want our teams to deliver a high-level of performance, to make sure we stay ahead of the competition and above all to make sure we are meeting the needs of our customers. High-performing teams are known to be up to five times more effective than lesser performers, and so, quite simply, we need more of them. Psychological safety helps that happen.

Anna explains, “Our ability to create high performing teams is a key predictor for us to be successful. We know that historically we have been really good as individual contributors, but as the world of work is changing we’re trying to work in different ways, which involves more partnership working, both inside the bank and externally; we need to take it up a level, collaboration is going to be key, team work matters – particularly when the problems we face are complex and the pace of change fast.”

Google recently undertook a project to look at the characteristics of high performing teams, and Anna has studied the results, “It’s not who you have in the team, it’s actually how they work, how they are treated and how they gel together which makes the biggest difference.”

Google’s study found that psychological safety has a big role to play in high performing teams, as well as other factors such as equal and active listening, and doing work with meaning.

Change is a necessity in the financial services sector, but it’s true to say that as a species, human beings prefer consistency. A lack of consistency is one of a number of triggers that can affect an individual’s feelings of psychological safety, as well as a lack of security, autonomy, fairness, esteem, trust, and other personal factors unique to each individual.

We’re balancing consistency with the need for change in our business, so how do we minimise the various triggers, to give our teams the psychological safety that helps them perform at their best?

Encouraging better psychological safety

By our understanding of the kind of things that trigger psychological safety concerns, we’re better able to create the environment that avoids them.

We’re pleased that the results of internal surveys tells us we are doing well in creating an environment where everyone feels psychologically safe, and we are working with all our teams to help those that need additional support, and to get better still in this fascinating area of business performance. It’s about being honest with each other, recognising what’s going well and what needs improvement We ask all our colleagues to do things to support psychological safety, such as learning from experience, inviting constructive challenge from others and sharing feedback and reflections with others.

As our Performance Consultant, Charlotte Thompson, suggests, “It’s not just about having nice conversations. It’s about having difficult conversations about where things haven’t gone right, and that helps you be a better performer in a high performing team.”

Learn more about our commitment to health and wellbeing today

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