Psychological Security and New Work – or How to Make Shared Governance Work

Lovey Wymann

Lovey WymannJune 2023

Clarity Generates Psychological Security – Psychological Security Generates Clarity 

Serge Bärtschi, Organisational Developer at Swiss Post, kicked off the event with the question: What keeps people from taking on responsibility?  

There are three main reasons: They do not know or understand the purpose, they don’t have the necessary autonomy and, in some cases, they lack certain skills. This, in turn, means that people need to understand the goal and need to WANT to reach it. They need to understand the things they MAY do – and have or develop the skills so they CAN do them.  

This requires communication of expectations, clear definition of governance, more transparency, a radical focus on strengths, the ability to self-reflect, and trust: Trust in the process, in the people and in your own skills. 

Research proves him right: 

The Google Aristotle Project investigated the effectiveness of 180 teams over the course of two years. The key to success was not so much the composition of the teams but rather the way teams collaborated. The project identified 5 pillars that make up the foundation of high-performing teams: 

  • Psychological security 

  • Dependability 

  • Structure & clarity 

  • Meaning 

  • Impact 

These pillars are particularly important if areas of responsibility or challenges change fundamentally, and people feel extremely insecure. 

Next up was Andrea Hofmann, transformation manager at WKS KV Bildung, who continued the theme: 

Learning Through Experience 

The reform of the commercial apprenticeship programme (linked information in German) significantly changed the self-image of teachers. Instead of imparting knowledge and setting tasks, teachers now accompany learning, coach and co-create in the classroom; they no longer prepare as experts in their fields, on their own schedule, but in co-creation by synchronising with the group. To prepare for this, her school established circles in which the new lesson plans were developed using this methodology: Through co-creation, in an agile setting and with the particular roles. The project was called “World of Experience in Action” and provided an opportunity to debate, learn from each other, experience new situations and develop a new culture of learning and failing. 

Her conclusion: 

  • Learning through experience is effective and sustainable. 

  • Setting roles helps reflect and assume a coaching mentality.  

  • A culture of failing and learning should be actively addressed and implemented. 

Of course, not everything went smoothly... but according to Astrid Blunschi Balmer of the CEO Unit Transformation of the Baloise insurance company, that is exactly as it should be. Or, in her words: 

Tension is Always a Gift 

Shared governance promotes accountability and improves decision-making. With this in mind, she tells people to “Mention your Tension!” This is taken seriously, seen as something positive and addressed in a dedicated meeting using well-defined structures. 

It is not just clear structures that help people find the courage to mention their tension, but also principles that have been agreed on. 

Here are a few examples:

  • Trust is our key value in our collaboration. 

  • No one is entitled to issue instructions to others, other than in their role as employer. 

  • We work transparently and exchange information proactively as needed. 

  • If in doubt, we will always choose to trust colleagues. 

  • We use unfortunate decisions, also known as mistakes, constructively as an opportunity to learn. 

The discussion that followed and continued during drinks was in-depth and constructive. We are curious to see how participants take these ideas back to their companies and work to support psychological security and health. The following tips might help: 

Tips for Your Company 

For employees to actually 

  • Mention their tension 

  • Fill their roles independently and in them assume responsibility for decisions 

  • Contribute to meetings and 

  • For shared governance to take effect, 

they require the security that 

  • Criticism and needs (tension) can be addressed openly and will be used for improvement, 

  • There are persons you can trust,

  • There are no negative consequences for mistakes,  

  • Conflicts and friction are required for people and the system to evolve, 

  • And the model is given space to take effect and is not over-managed. 

We are here for you!

Would you like to introduce New Work Models in your enterprise or would you like support in their implementation? We are here for you.

Ivo Bättig
Sandro Dönni
Sandro Doenni