Providing a safe place for team members to collaborate fearlessly can help create better workflow and a high standard of care for patients
Creating a safe space for veterinary professionals, clients, and patients is a crucial aspect of working or owning a veterinary clinic. There are measures taken to ensure that needles are stored and thrown away safely, security systems may be installed, and drugs are kept in proper storage, but when it comes to the psychological safety of the veterinary team, are your team members safe?
During his lecture “Safe to Soar: The Secret Sauce of Highly Effective Team” at the Veterinary Meeting & Expo, Josh Vaisman, MAPPCP, CCFP, cofounder of Flourish Veterinary Consulting based in Boulder, Colorado, explained the importance of creating a workplace that encourages people to speak up to create a learning environment for everyone.
When working, whether in a clinic or beyond, many bosses, managers, or owners will tell employees that if there is a problem or a mistake, "come to me." However, something that is easily said and done has proven to be a struggle for some. Vaisman explained that even with good intentions of having employees come to you with help, they might be worried about how they will be viewed or judged for the error they had.
“When we have something in our lives that feels like it could damage the impression that other people have of us, our natural inclination is to run away from that. Our natural inclination is to protect ourselves so that we can continue to fit in,” explained Vaisman.
“Because if I look bad to you, you may not want me to be part of the group and that's really problematic. That's what drives this withholding. It's that the impression management, [that] desire to try and manage the impression that other people have of us. Most of these behaviors, most of these things that we're doing to manage the oppression of others, they're kind of if not unconscious, a little bit subconscious.”
According to Amy Edmondson, who Vaisman credited as being the creator of psychological safety, defines it as a belief within a team that we will not be punished, or risk retribution for speaking up with questions, concerns, ideas, or mistakes.2 Vaisman explained to attendees that to him, this is fearless collaboration. It means that when there is an issue or a call for ideas, the employees feel comfortable speaking up.
The veterinary clinic is a team and even though there are times where doctors or practice owners must make a call and that is that, opening the floor to the other staff members to hear what they think could lead to better practices being put into place, a better understanding of coworkers, and more that could improve the clinic for everyone.
Vaisman concluded his lecture by saying that there is no perfect way to create psychologically safety. There will almost always be people that still think things or have ideas that they do not share and there will be times that leadership messes up. For Vaisman, it is not about perfect, it’s about excellence.
“We need high standards for high performance, we should expect excellence from ourselves and each other. I'm using that word on purpose by the way. I would love to see every single one of us in both internal and external dialogue, replace the word perfection with excellence, said Vaisman.
“The problem is when we have an environment that expects excellence or pursuit of perfection, and it is not psychologically safe. [This is] what we get. We get people going to work and feeling [anxious] all day every day because they're spending emotional and psychological capital on protecting themselves. We need to reduce that need to elevate the psychological safety to match our standards,” he concluded.