How free speech in­creases pro­duc­tiv­ity

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES NATION -

Con­sider two of­fices. In one, it is dif­fi­cult to dis­agree with col­leagues. Peo­ple are al­ways on their guard. In the other, staff en­joys ‘psy­cho­log­i­cal safety’ — they can take in­ter­per­sonal risks. Which of­fice is more pro­duc­tive?

Har­vard Univer­sity re­searcher Amy Ed­mon­son has shown that the psy­cho­log­i­cally safer a team is, the bet­ter it per­forms. “It has been found that psy­cho­log­i­cal safety also cor­re­lates to bet­ter per­for­mance and higher cre­ativ­ity in work teams. On an in­di­vid­ual level, re­searchers say, it has a pos­i­tive ef­fect on en­gage­ment and com­mit­ment,” says an ar­ti­cle in BBC Cap­i­tal.

The con­cept of psy­cho­log­i­cal safety is more im­por­tant now as a rapidly-chang­ing econ­omy has re­duced job se­cu­rity. While com­pa­nies can­not guar­an­tee jobs, the of­fice cul­ture they cre­ate is in their hands. In 2016, a Google study showed that work- ers who felt freer and bonded bet­ter out­per­formed more tal­ented teams.

Work­ers feel safer when the cost of tak- ing risks is low. They also ad­mit mis­takes read­ily when they know they won’t lose their job. “This is es­pe­cially true for peo­ple who strug­gle to grasp a group’s norms... like very young or shy work­ers, or those fac­ing cul­tural bar­ri­ers. If they feel mis­un­der­stood or os­tracised, they are less ea­ger to stand out and show what they have to of­fer.”

Psy­cho­log­i­cal safety is hard to im­ple­ment from the top. It is usu­ally a group norm, backed by team lead­ers. Still, it is worth pro­mot­ing as a cor­po­rate value be­cause, when work­ers can­not speak freely, for fear of the boss, “in­for­ma­tion about prob­lems tends to get stuck on its way to the top and psy­cho­log­i­cally un­safe groups may well re­main un­der the radar of HR or top lead­er­ship teams.”

In a team where si­lence is golden, prob­lems don’t come to light un­til it is too late.

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