Establish an environment that is open for idea generation by cultivating psychological safety.
An open environment is crucial to legal design. What do we mean when we say “open environment”? There are a few elements to this. “Open” means open to new ideas, new ways of working, new ways of doing, new ways of being and new understandings of what it means to be professional.
In order for such an open environment to be created, there needs to be high levels of trust among team members. To establish such high levels of trust, there needs to be something called psychological safety.
Psychological safety in a team can be described as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking”4 – meaning that individuals are not afraid that they will be humiliated or punished for their words and actions.
In 2015, Google concluded a study5 on the building blocks of a successful Google team, finding that psychological safety is the prerequisite for all other factors that contribute to a high-performing team. Without psychological safety, team members will not trust the team environment enough to contribute. Consequently, psychological safety also fosters diverse ideas.
Since a key component of legal design is the creation and sharing of ideas and solutions, it is necessary for those leading legal design initiatives to establish an open environment that is psychologically safe from the outset.
To be clear, psychological safety does not mean “being nice.” Rather, it relates to establishing an environment in which:
- People are encouraged to share their thoughts.
- People do not fear humiliation, judgement or loss of credibility for sharing their ideas.
- People feel comfortable giving constructive criticism to their peers.
- People feel comfortable receiving constructive criticism from their peers.
Psychological safety cannot be faked. People can intuit from leaders whether an environment is really open or not. Psychological safety must be advocated and practiced by leadership in order for a team to establish real trust in one another.
4 Edmonson, “Psychological Safety,” 6
5 Rozovsky, “The five keys to a successful Google team”