I’ve been reading articles about bringing your “whole self” to work and the role of psychological safety in the workplace. Some reports show that when people feel “fake” i.e. they cannot be themselves, that they behave badly. Other reports are clear that psychological safety at work is a key aspect of leading a mentally and emotionally healthy team.

Over the last few months, Sarah and I have built a team of 5 with our most recent hire joining us this July. The idea of creating a strong culture that is inclusive and “safe” is important to us. In this blog, I will highlight how we drive psychological safety at Doqaru.

Psychological Safe vs Not Psychological Safe

A recent article in Office Vibe describes a psychologically safe team as one where there is trust so they experiment without the fear of being judged. Team members can voice their opinions without shame and if something doesn’t work as planned, there’s no blame or label. It might seem basic, but these characteristics are absent in many teams.

Across the world’s workplaces, people consistently feel embarrassed and don’t ask questions or share ideas. It’s a morale-killing and company-decimating way to be. Anyone who has worked in this sort of toxic environment knows what I’m saying.

How we’re ensuring psychological safety at Doqaru

It means a lot to Sarah and I that the people that work here feel like they can be themselves. From the get-go, we spoke about the culture we want to build – embodied by our values (Purposeful, Helpful & Integrity). We want to surround ourselves with people that speak up and tell the truth even when it’s not what we might want to hear. No yes-men or yes-women!

We lead by example

Sarah and I are real with each other. We don’t always agree, and we don’t pretend that we do. Yet, our interaction is always respectful and supportive. Whatever the difference in opinion, we know that we both have the company’s best interest at heart.

The staff sometimes hear our conversations. They see that there is mutual respect. This is how we want them to treat each other.

We ask staff to speak up if they have an idea or concern

There’s nothing worse than sitting in a meeting and not being able to say what you think. At Doqaru, we actively ask the team to tell us if they find a better way of doing something or if something isn’t working. Neither Sarah nor I want to be the “emperor with no clothes”. We have blind spots and we are very busy. So, part of what we hope our team will do is to tell us what we’ve missed or gotten wrong.

We love new ideas – it keeps us motivated and competitive in the market, so we absolutely want our staff to speak up.

We stick up for each other

Whether it’s a project gone wrong or a difficult email thread, we stick up for each other during adversity. The team is a family that you can depend on whenever you need support. The last thing we want is for a team member to feel alone in a crisis.

Running any business has day-to-day challenges and battles to fight. We thrive to do it together. Staff must know that no matter what, they can come to either Sarah or me for help.

We acknowledge emotions when we are stressed or under pressure

There’s a tendency for people to be on one of two extremes when they are under pressure. It’s either we suppress it and make it internal so that no one sees how stressed out they are, or we let the full extent of their stress be known.

We cannot eliminate workplace stress, but we acknowledge it and deal with it. I’ll sometimes say that I’m taking the day off or that I’m looking forward to the weekend, for instance. In the midst of a challenging week, we’ll openly acknowledge that it’s been tough and thank everyone for helping the business through a tricky few days. Things aren’t perfect in business and we are not going to pretend that it is to staff. In the same vein, if things aren’t great with them, we don’t expect them to pretend that it is.

We invest in downtime and personal interests

One thing that we’ve done is join Perkbox. I love the perks that are now available to our staff as a result. Early on, Sarah and I discussed what we wanted our company culture to be. We reflected on the work cultures that we’d come across so far in our careers. It was clear that we both wanted a thriving, fun workplace.

With Perkbox, each staff gets to choose their perks. I personally can’t wait to get my free Cineworld ticket every month. I save them and take my family to the cinema as a treat! But that’s just what I like. Sarah loves her free coffee at Café Nero. And as doting pet owners, Pam and Dean have their eyes on the pet insurance deals.

We provide clarity and structure but stay flexible

Google researched 180 teams over a 2-year period. They found that clarity and structure drove high performance in teams. By clarity and structure, we don’t mean that we tell people what to do and how to do it. At Doqaru, we thrive to be clear about the company’s goals and we revisit them when things change. We are as defined as possible about individual team roles, but we co-create job descriptions with each team member. It is important that staff feel that they know what is expected of them and what for what they are accountable.

As a small business, it is not always possible to be so defined because when something needs doing, anyone around should be able to get involved. So, we get as close to clear as possible but remain flexible.

We encourage others to try something that they have no idea how to do

Following on from the last point, we are open about team members trying new things. A graphic designer who wants to do some writing or someone on the finance team who wants to learn design. It’s how I learned – a production engineer with an interest in marketing, then given a chance to try it. And the rest is history.

Of course, there should be some structure for personal projects. But the idea is that people can come to work and be who they are – interests and all. This approach supports authenticity and identity integration i.e. not having a different identity at home/among friends compared to your identity at work.

Research shows that it is in an organisation’s best interest to help people feel more like themselves. Sarah and I agree.

How do you support psychological safety at work?