Most organisations today understand the relevance of collaborative practices in task completion. Collaborative practices, such as task coordination, information, and idea sharing, learning, and integrating various perspectives, have become common. Teams are known to offer structural means by which individuals collaborate. One major characteristic of a team is noted in different people working together to attain a common outcome.
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Evidence suggests that working with other people on a team could be extremely difficult (Duhigg 2016). Simply expressed, some teams collaborate effectively while others fail to do so at all. As such, it is imperative to understand why some teams succeed while others do not. In this regard, it is important for members of a team to determine their perception based on interpersonal relations in order to comprehend teamwork and organisational learning and accomplishments.
Organisational psychologists, statisticians, engineers, sociologists, and researchers have developed keen interests in understanding how a team functions. Psychological safety, which refers to the common belief held by different team members that the team offers safety for interpersonal risk taking (Edmondson 1999), is the focus of this research paper. The construct of psychological safety reflects the willingness of individual team members to contribute their ideas and actions to work collectively as a team. While there are various ways that a team can create psychological safety, this paper aims to demonstrate that one specific approach is the best to create a sense of psychological safety in a team environment.
Creating Psychological Safety in a Team Environment
Some employees might have experienced working in a team environment who never felt psychologically safe. In such cases, the team is dysfunctional and unsafe for the well-being of employees. In fact, job-related stress, anxiety, and depression could occur. On the contrary, some organisations, as demonstrated by the case of Google (Duhigg 2016), have managed to create psychologically safe environments for their employees.
In such environments, employees usually feel safe to share their ideas and collaborate on tasks. In this regard, the often taken-for-granted practices, such as seeking a second opinion, employee personal and professional development, promoting learning opportunities, team participation, and worker engagement among others, have been shown to create psychological safety in a team environment. In this research, promoting learning opportunities is presented as the most effective means of creating psychological safety in a team environment.
Promoting Learning Opportunities
Learning and adjusting to change are critical because teams constantly encounter unexpected changes in their organisations and business environments. Yet, an essential component of learning entails challenging common assumptions and addressing variations in opinions openly within a team. In this case, an open approach eliminates fears of embracement or possible threats. Leaders must always find the best ways to foster psychological safety in a team environment (Ashauer & Macan 2013).
Organisational teams consist of groups that are found within the larger organisation and have shared responsibilities through their defined team membership composition. Learning behaviours within a team are generally reflected on activities that the team does. These activities allow the team to access and processes information that can advance its existence, adaptation, and improvement. Some notable learning behaviours include sharing information, seeking feedback, asking for assistance, reviewing and discussing mistakes, and trying out new ways of task completion. Teams can use these activities to identify changes in their environments, learn about emerging needs, enhance members’ understanding, or review past actions and their consequences.
Researchers have established that enhanced learning opportunities lead to psychological safety in a team environment (Idris, Dollard, & Tuckey 2015). In this regard, leaders should be proactive in advancing learning opportunities within their teams. Individuals are naturally driven to learn about concepts based on their interests. Learning opportunities can motivate the team and increase their engagement and commitment to a team and an organisation.
In some instances, however, some important outcomes from learning opportunities may go unnoticed. Members of a team, for instance, may not share the distinct knowledge they have. In this case, a group discussion or a meeting may only involve sharing of information or knowledge generally common to all members. The team therefore experiences a learning dilemma. In fact, the situation could get worse when individuals who are in the position to promote positive learning behaviours believe they are taking risky actions.
For instance, one may believe that asking for help could reflect a form of incompetency, admitting mistakes, or a knowledge gap, which could have negative reputational consequences. Moreover, such persons may suffer more dire consequences specifically if their actions evoke unwanted impressions on leaders who decide on promotions, task assignments, or raises (Edmondson 1999).
Therefore, asking for assistance, acknowledging mistakes, seeking feedback, and any other related actions might be perceived as the kind of actions that pose threat to individuals in a team environment. As such, individuals in a team tend to be reluctant to seek help, share their knowledge, or disclose their mistakes even if such acts would benefit the entire team or an organisation. In this regard, the sense of threat created in a team tends to limit personal engagement in learning and other group activities. In fact, it could be difficult for knowledge sharing and the related team innovation to take place in a functionally divided team.
Overall, individuals in a team environment will therefore act in a manner that impedes learning because of possible embarrassment or threats. Consequently, they will fail to generate any meaningful decisions (Tudor & Trumble 1996).
Nevertheless, in some team environments, individuals tend to consider threats and embarrassments as low that they are willing to seek help, admit mistakes, discuss issues openly, and/or seek for feedback. In some team environments, members of a team tend to be familiar with the team environment to the extent that they perceive any threats to learning as sufficiently limited. Thus, promoting team learning is highly possible.
Team learning results in behavioural change among members of a team. Members acquire knowledge through interactional activities that promote learning (Kumako & Asumeng 2013). Through reflection and action, individuals begin to ask questions, discuss issues, and ask for feedback. In this regard, the team environment does not create threats that inhibit learning. Individuals within a team start to develop their knowledge gradually by assessing various opinions, engaging in open constructive criticism, creating new procedures, and developing new strategies to control impacts of negative feedback. Overall, the team evaluates its behaviours to determine learning and improvements in engagement.
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Positive learning behaviours will be demonstrated through enhanced involvement, asking for assistance, contributions from members with diverse opinions, assessing errors, promoting knowledge sharing, and innovation while focusing on boundary spanning (Edmondson 1999). These behaviours and actions are generally associated with enhanced collective comprehension of the team environment, prevailing situations, and assessing effects of past actions, thereby assisting the team to identify and intervene on new developments in the environment.
Learning in a team is different from other related concepts, such as innovation and adaptation (Kumako & Asumeng 2013; Lantz 2011). Learning is linked to a wide range of behaviours, which could stay hidden and never manifested. A favourable team environment should promote adaptation to facilitate learning. In this case, knowledge acquired through learning is reflected in an adaptive team when its members adjust to various situations effectively.
Team learning promotes team innovation, and it could lead to functional outcomes for the group or an organisation. In fact, Lantz (2011) observes that teamwork offers critical benefits to innovation processes. In this case, the group exhibits some forms of freedom and reflective processes. A favourable team learning environment allows employees to think positively and engage in processes that enhance learning and innovation (Lantz 2011). During learning processes, members of a team learn about how various conditions could be changed to improve learning and innovation. Lantz (2011) notes that job design that influences team processes could be reviewed to promote learning.
In promoting learning opportunities in a team environment, the role of the leader cannot be underestimated (Babnik, Širca, & Dermol 2014). Buci, Robinson, and Ramburuth (2014) observed that some leadership styles, such as transactional, transformational, and ambidextrous, used by some leaders showed functional impacts on learning development as a strategic tool for a team and an organisation. In this regard, leaders must understand that the leadership style they adopt significantly influences team cohesion, team members’ learning perception, and other learning-related outcomes (Bucic, Robinson, & Ramburuth 2014).
This implies that leaders must always assess their roles, behaviours, and leadership style to ensure that they can develop the preferred team outcomes. In this case, psychological safety in a team environment would naturally thrive. In fact, transformational leadership style can promote team learning behaviours better than other, less favourable, leadership styles, such as autocratic and laissez-faire (Raes et al. 2013). Transformational leadership has been linked to enhanced group psychological safety, and it only comes second to social cohesion, whereas laissez-faire leadership style presents the opposite of this scenario (Raes et al. 2013). Therefore, transformational leadership is critical for psychological safety in a team environment because it promotes learning (Raes et al. 2013).
Learning behaviour is an important constituent of individual team members and the overall organisational learning processes (Babnik, Širca, & Dermol 2014). In addition, learning behaviour is vital for knowledge management in an organisation. On this note, Babnik, Širca, and Dermol (2014) highlight that team job characteristics, which include task variety, identity, and significance and team leadership, such as people and task oriented behaviours and actions, have favourable inputs on learning behaviour processes in work teams.
Individuals who work in organisations that offer a suitable and supportive environment to team members are most likely to propose new ideas to the team relative to others who work in threatening non-supportive environments. They risk being censored, attacked, punished, or ridiculed for such proposals. Consequently, resultant learning among team members is most likely to create psychological safety while improving the team’s creative potential.
Once work team members have realised psychological safety in the team, they can work with ease and present new ideas in a supportive, safe environment because of the reduced threats. In addition, members of the team are also likely to enhance their engagement in the job, improve their effort, or demonstrate enhanced collaboration in task handling and problem solving while learning better (Edmondson 1999). In fact, most studies have shown positive correlation between work team learning and psychological safety (Edmondson 1999; Duhigg 2016; Idris, Dollard, & Tuckey 2015). Learning therefore results in a psychologically safe environment when the team can share information and offer constructive criticism.
As a result, a psychological safe team environment is known to promote further learning (Edmondson 1999). Such environments promote sharing of knowledge among members of a team as they strive to achieve common learning and organisational goals. As such, members of a team can work toward shared solutions for problems facing the team (Brindley, Walti, & Blaschke 2009). In this case, the team creates an active learning environment for all individuals to contribute toward new knowledge search, discussions, and information exchange.
The team co-creates knowledge and shares it and, thus, it does not reside in a single member of the team. It is imperative to recognise that enhanced learning leads to creation of a bond among individuals in the work team because knowledge development is a shared process among all members of the team. Therefore, promoting collaborative learning processes helps the work team to create sophisticated order-thinking skills while enhancing psychological safety in a team, which further develops shared goals, processes, and skills development within the team.
According to Ortega et al. (2014), team learning is an imperative element in predicting the performance of a team. In the healthcare setting, for instance, it is particularly necessary for the quality of care and hospital performance as members of a team engage in different learning behaviors to limit medical errors and enhance the effectiveness of care (Ortega et al. 2014). In this case, there is an interceding impact of work team learning on the link between change-focused leadership and team performance and psychological safety in a team environment. In addition, one can understand how effective team leadership can nurture and advance behaviours that promote team learning, psychological safety, and ultimately improved team performance.
Ashauer and Macan (2013) observed that learning behaviours and psychological safety were advanced in teams with expert skills rather than performance goals or lack of it. The researchers observed that team psychological safety facilitated the association between skills and learning behaviours. Leadership and related goals advance work team learning and, in the process, creates psychological safety.
In addition, it also noted that even in an online environment, it is important to develop a learning environment that advances team connectivity and collaboration practices to assist learners to attain the required skills to create groups and meaningfully take part in team learning and social networks (Brindley, Walti, & Blaschke 2009).
Although promoting learning opportunities among team members to build psychological safety in a team environment is preferred as the best approach, some major drawbacks have been identified in promoting learning opportunities in a work team environment (Ramanujam & Goodman 2011). The central argument is that learning offers a specific set of team outcomes and processes that differ from known, individual learning practices and outcomes.
That is, team learning cannot spontaneously create favourable group learning outcomes. For any form of learning to take place, there are multiple conditions, which the team must realise. First, the team can fail to distinguish between learning outcomes and other related outcomes. In this case, learning goals could be unrealistic or incorrect, particularly when they are restricted to general goals. Thus, it could be difficult for learning to come out as a product of the team’s learning effort. Second, effective learning requires shared understanding. However, teams often experience challenges in creating shared understanding. This process needs new approaches beyond simple solutions.
However, when a team fails to possess and use effective skills to evaluate understanding and commitment to new approaches, then problem solving may take place, but not learning. Besides, diverse group composition may not advance shared understanding among team members. Third, not all teams will sufficiently comprehend the work of storage repositories. In this case, choosing a repository technique, proper indexing, selection systems, and maintaining methods are not simple. Finally, the team may also encounter challenges associated with the retrieval of stored information. Retrieval may be inhibited with time, geographical distribution, and expertise of the team.
Nevertheless, the team can work toward overcoming these learning challenges by developing an effective understanding of learning through comprehending various processes of learning, such as goal setting, information sharing, storage, and retrieval. Besides, the team should explicitly define learning goals, create a learning protocol, and develop targeted strategies to advance some specific learning processes.
Most organisations now appreciate the importance of collaborative processes in a work team. This research paper argues that promoting learning opportunities is the most effective means of creating psychological safety in a team environment. Once this happens, other related benefits, including information sharing, discussions, improved engagement, performance, and seeking feedback can be significantly improved in a team environment. While promoting learning in a work team to create psychological safety in a team faces some challenges, the team can use best practices in learning to overcome such challenges.
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