Goethe’s Tips for Creating a Culture of Psychological Safety

Rachelle Kuramoto
Rachelle Kuramoto
VP of Brand & Content
Published Apr 22, 2021

Raise your hand if you’ve had a heck of a year. Yeah. Us too. Adam Grant says we’re all languishing in the muck and mire that 2020 left in its wake. (Rude.) For all the challenges it’s created, though, this past year also has provided an excellent opportunity to attune to a vital quality of high-performing teams — psychological safety

Put simply, psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. It is necessary for team members to step up, trust one another, think creatively, and contribute without fear. The teams that have this climate have more collective breakthroughs and more individual progress.

As Dragon Army shifted to a fully digital agency model, colleague and client relationships took new forms and blossomed in new ways. I bet they have for you too. (I not only know the names of my colleagues’ kids, I know the names of their pets!)

The richness of relationships that have emerged through going through this past year together has a lot to do with how leadership is creating and modeling psychological safety. We’re a company with purpose at our center, and people run through every part of our PVTV (Purpose, Vision, Tenets, Values) operating model.

Our purpose is to inspire happiness through positive relationships, impactful work, and doing good. Our vision is to be sought-after by the world’s best companies for our creative problem-solving. We will do this by attracting and retaining exceptional people, building remarkable products and experiences, and striving for operational excellence. We believe in putting the team first, thinking positively, celebrating diversity, doing good, and having fun.

Dragon Army PVTV

Roots & Wings

To live out any of the elements of this core operating system, people must feel like they have a place and a voice, and that they are supported in their efforts to grow in their position.

Part of my responsibility (and delight) as a senior member of the Dragon Army team is to instill psychological safety in my team. I strive to create space for these exceptional people to nurture positive relationships, ask questions, explore ideas, delegate — generally, to trust one another.

Sometimes it’s easy. Everyone is collaborating smoothly, the work is fulfilling, and we’re delivering exceptional quality to happy clients. Sometimes, it’s not so easy. (Particularly if we’re languishing and the to-do list isn’t.) People get burnt out, mistakes get made, clients might get a little frustrated. When that happens, modeling and encouraging psychological safety, transparency, trust, grace, and accountability are even more important than when things are going smoothly.

Anyone who knows me is very aware that I’m a mom. I talk about my family a lot. (Probably too much. Call it an effort to model transparency and work/life balance — wink. Or maybe I just really like my people.) In any case, there’s an excellent parenting concept from Goethe that works really well when we’re thinking about how to create psychological safety.

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If that’s not a lofty goal, I’m not sure what is. Roots for belonging. Wings to achieve. Roots and Wings are not two things, they two parts of one whole. They are the building blocks of psychological safety. And there is nothing more important to convey than that my team members have a voice and they matter. And that there is a high bar set for them because we have the confidence they can meet it. 

Nurturing Psychological Safety Every Day

The tricky thing is that sometimes it feels like the ground is too soft to put down roots. Oh, and nobody’s wings are fully formed. We are all in progress. (Hello, humility.) But that’s exactly why trust, grace, and feeling safe are so important.

It takes focus and consideration to nurture Roots and Wings and create an environment where people can plant professional roots and grow strong wings they can use to soar in their craft and work. And if that happens, we achieve our PVTV as a team of curious and courageous people who bring exceptional capabilities and a desire to use them. We’ll create nothing less than “remarkable products and experiences” for every Dragon Army partner. 

It would seem that Roots and Wings is a secret to corporate integrity, professional fulfillment, and relational longevity. So even if you’ve had a rough year or you’re counting yourself among the population of languishers, if you can look around and see Roots and Wings, you’re good. You have psychological safety in the mix, and that means you have what it takes to endure the challenges and get to the good stuff.