Psychological Safety in Product Management Holds the Key to Inspiration and Innovation
Updated: Oct 5, 2023
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We need to develop a multiculturally diverse partnership across our organization to build products that will impact humanity for the better and change lives. For that coalition to be effective, the individuals involved must be embedded in a product culture whose basic tenet is psychological safety.
Productive product leaders will tell you that one of the main reasons they are successful and build impactful products is because they have great relationships with their diverse cross-functional teams. They discuss that their partner teams are multicultural and strive to be innovative, creative, and fearless in their pursuit of making their customers’ lives better. They are driven by their acclamation, reverence, and veneration for humankind.
These product cultures create an impact because product leaders lead the charge; they are the architect of psychological safety. They walk the walk and preach it daily through their words and actions. These product leaders will also convey that to create and foster psychological safety; it took time, trust, transparency, and a shared vision.
What is Psychological Safety?
Psychological safety is a fundamental principle that fosters trust and openness among multidisciplinary team members within our organizations, creating a safe space where they feel comfortable sharing innovative ideas, concepts, and concerns. It encourages them to fearlessly challenge assumptions, ask thoughtful questions, and take calculated risks without the constant worry of facing punitive measures or termination. This empowers individuals in the product management space to embrace failure as a stepping stone to growth and improvement, ultimately driving creativity and excellence in our work.
Why is Psychological Safety Important in Product Management?
Product leaders understand that they can foster a culture of psychological safety by bringing their scrum teams, partners, teammates, and leaders with them on the product journey. They recognize that team members must trust their judgments to build and launch projects, which is why creating a safe space is paramount. Therefore, product leaders must be the pillar of psychological safety within their teams and organization.
Foundations of Psychologically Safe PM Cultures
Here are my foundations of a psychologically safe product management culture:
1. Treat people nicely and fairly
In my experience, my behavior, or exactly how I treat other teammates, is one of the most significant aspects of influence. Being sincere and straightforward is imperative. A miscalculation in one’s honesty will cost you confidence for a very long time, and no product leader wants to have the reputation of not being trustworthy.
2. Lead with empathy
Empathy for our cross-functional partners and their personal lives is critical to building trust. Studies demonstrate that when people know their leaders care, will listen, and consider their feelings and thoughts, even through criticism, they can effectively empower them in their work to achieve the team's objectives.
Storytelling is one of the most important abilities product leaders have to educate, persuade, and motivate. What makes storytelling a necessity is the fact that it develops connections between our multidisciplinary teams and concepts. Through storytelling, we are able to communicate tedious specifics intriguingly.
Stories have the power to cut through the noise, and narratives can help bring to life our customers’ pain points - which are true and honest. Additionally, people rarely remember statistics but always recall stories, especially those emotionally captivating.
Through storytelling and collaboration, I have created a safe space where my colleagues and partners can voice their viewpoints and point out issues with my project, even if the feedback is undesirable. I have come to appreciate this greatly because they feel invested, and they want to set me up for success.
5. Influence without authority
Product leaders must be able to influence without authority to build a coalition. I believe getting to know your scrum teams, teammates, cross-functional teams, and stakeholders is important. I have been known to invite them for coffee pre-covid and virtual coffee since working from home. I do this to form more significant relationships and connections.
6. Accentuate the voices of your cross-functional team
I strive to bring out the best in my colleagues and magnify everyone‘s voices, ensuring they are heard and validated. I recognize that I don’t have all the answers, but I want to work with team members to find the best solutions so we can solve problems for our customers in a defining manner.
7. Grace under pressure
We will come across issues and bad releases that cause customer calls. It is incredibly significant how we convey information and an urgent need but, importantly - not anxiety. Our tone, choice of words, and recognition of challenging circumstances can be the most formidable influence on our interdisciplinary teams, direct reports, and leaders who are watching and taking notes.
We must remember that members of our partners’ teams have the best interest of our organization at the forefront, just like we do. We all execute our tasks differently, so we must listen and create a safe space for them to share their thoughts and ideas. This builds trust.
9. Discord and objections are how we polish each other
Conflicts and discussions help us develop essential critical thinking skills and expose us to different perspectives and ideas that we may not have thought about otherwise. Additionally, particularly as a leader, it teaches us to listen and understand each other better.
10. Always show gratitude
Although underestimated, gratitude is a powerful leadership skill that can transform your team and even the whole organization. Showing gratitude in your everyday actions and life is meaningful but becomes even more essential when leading your cross-functional partner teams. Appreciation goes a long way.
The great product leaders I have come to know strive to build products that will shape and change society for the better. This is their way of demonstrating acclamation, veneration, and reverence for humankind. To bring such products to fruition, these leaders recognize they need ideas, innovation, creativity, and imagination from their diverse multidisciplinary partner teams. For this to happen, these product leaders are the pillar, anchor, bastion, and stalwart of a culture that embodies psychological safety.