4 Reasons You Should Be Talking about Interaction Safety in Your Organization
Note: This content originally appeared on Berrett-Koehler’s blog here.
Organizations are only as productive as the interactions that take place among their people. Interaction safety encourages reasonable risk-taking and inspires every individual to be brave enough to have honest conversations to reach for higher goals and more ambitious possibilities.
It creates an environment in which people trust one another and are encouraged to bring different points of view to the conversation. It allows people to feel that there is freedom to learn, speak up, and experiment. It enables people to feel safe enough to share not just their best ideas but their still-in-formation ideas. This must be deliberately nurtured.
It's obvious when it's not there
Many organizations pay a great deal of attention to the physical safety of their team members but don't pay much attention to fostering safety in the interactions employees have with one another. The default assumption is often, "I feel safe here, so I'm sure others do, too," or people might feel that it's each person's responsibility to tough it out or fend for themselves, or worse yet, when people feel unsafe, they likely also feel unsafe bringing it up with their HR department or manager.
There are countless examples of organizations in which bullying, verbal abuse, and harassment are tolerated or in which conflicts and disagreements create an atmosphere in which people keep their head down and keep quiet, which is why we need safety in our interactions now more than ever. When interaction safety does not exist, people spend a lot of energy worrying about being penalized, ostracized, demoted, made small, discounted, or shunned because of their thoughts, contributions, and conversations.
The absence of interaction safety has calamitous results that affect the organization as a whole. People walk on eggshells, stay within narrow boundaries, and worry about being judged. They don't share their ideas freely or fully engage with others. They don't feel valued, respected, and it is difficult to do their best work. They avoid taking the risks needed to be fully creative, problem-solve tough issues, or feel like they are supported in making the tough decisions needed to move the organization forward.
Why it matters now
Interaction safety is an essential ingredient for all people to be able to do their BEST work; work needing high levels of productivity through high engagement. When each person feels this safely with one another, this can enhance the overall feeling of safety in interactions as people test, challenge, and practice interaction safety person-to-person and group-to-group.
What do I need to know?
Interaction safety can't be assumed.
Organizations need to create environments where people feel safe enough to speak up and do their best work, and leadership has the responsibility to create a work environment where there is interaction safety.
This doesn't mean you need to overhaul your whole organization to make safe spaces for productive exchanges. It's also not about throwing out organizational goals or creating a "feel good" environment. It is not about doing away with conflict, disagreement, or challenge. It is not about coddling people or accepting poor performance. But it is about raising the bar for everyone and finding the higher level of safety that is needed in many interactions for greater contribution and performance. It's about intentionally creating an environment that accelerates trust, inclusion, and collaboration.
Interaction safety translates to success
In any relationship in your life, trust is one of the healthiest foundations to build on. If your team members trust that they are among allies, feel that they are able to give their best efforts, and are encouraged to share their ideas without judgment, you'll elicit some of their greatest, most creative ideas. When interaction safety exists, information flows, problems are identified before they grow into crises, and new ideas are generated by ever-changing combinations of perspectives, skillsets, and disciplines.
Interaction safety enables people to be more exploratory and productive. When interaction safety exists, the default assumptions are that…
We're all on the same team and the same side of the table.
Team members have the intention and the competence to add value.
The best solutions are those that consider all angles and incorporate all relevant perspectives.
The best route to success is building on one another's ideas rather than tearing them down.
We can achieve more together than we can alone.
This level of collaboration leads to more creativity, faster problem-solving, and breakthroughs. People also feel higher levels of commitment for the projects they're working on, which, in turn, results in greater individual and organizational success.
Interaction safety enables individuals and the team to SOAR
When your workplace practices interaction safety, people are not only able to share their ideas, but are also comfortable addressing misunderstandings and disagreements. Oftentimes, when things get left unsaid because teams don't feel safe, it gets in the way of productivity and presents a variety of obstacles that affect the entire organization's ability to achieve more.
When interaction safety exists, people feel free and empowered. There is an assumption that everyone is here to contribute. And when everyone can contribute, individuals, teams, and the organization are safe enough to soar – free to engage, make some mistakes, and learn together. Are you ready to start the journey for you and your teams to soar?