Feeling (psychologically) safe at work

In the fast-paced world of deadlines and targets, the often-overlooked heartbeat of the workplace is its psychological safety. Amy Edmondson’s ‘matrix of accountability’ defines the…

In the hustle and bustle of the professional world, where deadlines loom large and targets seem unrelenting, it’s easy to overlook the vital essence of a workplace – the psychological safety that underpins it all. I’ve come to realise that the significance of a psychologically safe working environment is not just a buzzword; it’s a cornerstone that shapes our daily experiences and fuels our professional growth.

Amy Edmondson, a trailblazer in organizational psychology, has crafted a compelling framework known as the “matrix of accountability,” shedding light on the intricate dance between accountability and psychological safety. This matrix is divided into four distinct quadrants: the Apathy Zone, the Anxiety Zone, the Comfort Zone, and the Learning Zone. Edmondson’s matrix offers a transformative perspective, illustrating that the journey toward a psychologically safe workplace involves navigating through these quadrants. The Apathy Zone is characterised by a lack of accountability and psychological safety, resulting in disengagement and indifference. The Anxiety Zone, as previously described, is marked by fear, hindering the free exchange of ideas and impeding progress. The Comfort Zone, although seemingly secure, can lead to complacency and resistance to change. It’s in the Learning Zone where the magic happens – a space where accountability and psychological safety coalesce to foster innovation, creativity, and personal development.

Reflecting on my journey, I can pinpoint a phase in my career when the atmosphere around me plunged me into the Anxiety Zone. The fear of judgment, coupled with a lack of psychological safety, created an environment where voicing concerns or proposing innovative ideas seemed perilous. In the Anxiety Zone, the prospect of making mistakes or facing criticism hampered my individual growth. It’s a place where innovation stifles, collaboration falters, and individuals, like myself at that time, find themselves hesitant to step outside the confines of established norms.

Amy Edmondson’s profound insights into psychological safety, coupled with essential practices, illuminate a path towards a workplace where trust and respect form the bedrock of collaboration. The first step is to foster an environment where individuals feel valued, heard, and respected for their contributions. Encouraging open dialogue, active listening, and empathy strengthen relationships within the team, creating a space where each voice is an integral part of the collective symphony.

In a psychologically safe workplace, I have found myself moving away from the Anxiety Zone and towards the Learning Zone. I am involved in projects where our team at Multiplex Partners, inspired by our values of Momentum, Ownership, Simplicity and Kindness, consciously ensure accountability and psychological safety. Our leaders foster an environment where open communication is not only encouraged but celebrated. By acknowledging the potential for mistakes and valuing diverse perspectives, we ensure our team finds themselves in the Learning Zone. This psychologically safe working environment is the fertile ground from which professional and personal growth spring forth. It’s the catalyst that propels teams toward excellence, fostering a culture where individuals can reach their full potential. As we navigate the intricacies of the professional landscape, let’s not underestimate the profound impact of psychological safety – it’s the heartbeat of a thriving workplace, pulsating with innovation, collaboration, and the shared pursuit of success.

Author

Chevaughn

van der Westhuizen

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