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148. Boosting Team Performance: Reducing Cognitive Load through Psychological Safety -Tom Geraghty

Did you know that when there is psychological safety on a team, it actually can reduce our cognitive load, making it easier to solve problems and innovate?

We no longer have to perform the mental risk calculations and assess our vulnerability whenever we want to ask a question. Instead, we can focus our brain power as a team on problem solving and innovation.

In this episode, Tom Geraghty, founder of, discusses the relationship between cognitive load and psychological safety and how we can use that knowledge to help teams thrive. We also discuss how psychological safety relates to privilege and intersectionality. Finally, Tom provides actionable practices for new and experienced leaders to more effectively create environments of psych safety so that the bulk of the team's cognitive load can be dedicated to meaningful, productive work.


About Tom:

Tom Geraghty headshot
Tom Geraghty

Tom Geraghty, founder and CEO of Iterum Ltd, is an expert in safety cultures and psychological safety. Leveraging his unique background in ecological research and technology, Tom has held CIO/CTO roles in a range of sectors from tech startups to global finance firms. He holds a degree in Ecology, an MBA, and is pursuing a Masters in Global Health at the University of Manchester. His mission is to make workplaces safer, higher performing, and more inclusive.


Teri Schmidt [00:00:00]:

Did you know that each time you're in a team meeting, you're performing risk calculations every minute to determine if it's safe for you to speak up? Those risk calculations are fairly easy with a well established team where there's a high degree of psychological safety. In other words, where you're confident that you won't be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. The calculations become more complex, however, when you are in a meeting with people you don't know, or where the meeting includes senior leaders and there's a power differential, are when you're a member of an underrepresented group. Each of those calculations take up brainpower. Or in other words, they increase our cognitive load. And the more complex the calculations are, the more cognitive load is increased, leaving us less brainpower to problem solve and innovate. In this episode, Tom Geraghty, founder of, discusses the crucial role of psychological safety in allowing high performing teams to flourish. Incorporating his experiences as an individual with dyspraxia and an extensive background in several disciplines, including ecology, technology, business and global public health.

Teri Schmidt [00:01:17]:

Geraghty explores the crucial topic of psychological safety and how it intersects with privilege an intersectionality. We explore the cognitive load of risk calculations that individuals face when deciding whether to speak up and how that decision impacts problem solving ability, team performance, and innovation. Tom also provides actionable practices for both new and experienced leaders to more effectively create environments of psychological safety so that the bulk of the team's cognitive load can be dedicated to meaningful productive work. It was a fascinating conversation that I think you will enjoy. So let's get into it. I'm Teri Schmidt, your host and a leadership coach dedicated to seeing you grow. I believe that leadership is about courageously using our talents to make a way for others to courageously use theirs. And this is the Strong Leaders Serve podcast.

Teri Schmidt [00:02:31]:

Welcome, Tom, to the Strong Leaders Serve Podcast. I am really looking forward to our conversation today because I love to talk to people with diverse backgrounds, and I've really been intrigued with the way that you approach psychological safety. So I'm I'm looking forward to a great conversation.

Tom Geraghty [00:02:49]:

Thank you so much, Teri. It's, it's fantastic to be here. I'm really honored to to be here. Yeah. Thank you.

Teri Schmidt [00:02:53]:

Well, to get started, I mentioned your diverse background. So I'd love to hear about, you know, what you're doing today and some of the milestone markers on your journey to where you are today.

Tom Geraghty [00:03:05]:

Yeah. Thanks. So so, yes, my name is Tom, Tom Geraghty. I'm the founder of of a website called So I'm I'm basically a professional psychological safety geek. That's what I do for a living, talk about psychological safety, evangelize for the creation of it, and help people and foster it and and create high performing teams. My professional background is in ecology and then in technology leading teams, becoming really passionate about Psychological as well. But initially about high performing teams and of the conditions in which teams can become high performing and learning about that.

Tom Geraghty [00:03:40]:

And that's where I came across psychological safety. Going further back into my early childhood, I was diagnosed with dyspraxia at a young age, And that resulted in me having trouble both articulating and to make and then pronouncing Different words, different phonemes as we as we call it, sort of the different sounds that we make. Mhmm. And so I had speech therapy for A number of years until around the age of 7 or 8. And then and at that point, I could I could speak and then develop a stutter later on in in in my teenage years, which It's common for many people. But I think that, you know, that experience really taught me and and made me feel quite, quite deeply what it's like To be trapped by not being able to speak or not having faith, not not trusting in your own voice, and not trusting that What you're trying to say will be received well. Or that you'll even be able to get the words out. And that's and that's kind of what favored and sort of sparked my passion for for this subject, I think.

Teri Schmidt [00:04:44]:

Well, thank you for sharing that. That is a unique way to get to the point of looking at psychological safety. And I I know you have, you know, several varied interests from safety to now you're pursuing another degree in global health. Is that correct?

Tom Geraghty [00:05:02]:

Yeah. Yeah. So I've, so in the past, I've done An MBA, and so my my original degree was in ecology, then I've done an MBA, and and and now I'm studying for a degree in, global public health and humanitarianism. And I I know I normally just say global health. And it's, Yeah. And it's it's so it's so interesting. It's it's really just a passion area of mine. It's it's something I really wanted to learn about and wanted to get involved in, And it's amazing.

Tom Geraghty [00:05:30]:

And that's, yeah, I just really enjoy it as well.

Teri Schmidt [00:05:32]:

Oh, excellent. Excellent. I I'm I'm curious how all that kind of folds into your your current work, and I'm sure that that might come out as we talk. But Yes. Any any insights that you wanna share right off the top here?

Tom Geraghty [00:05:47]:

Yeah. Well, I think I think there's a there's a call which is quite fundamental, which is around I'm sure people would disagree with this, but I I feel I believe that Fields like public health and global health are some of the most systems thinking and multidisciplinary fields that you can study. You know, public health was on everything from epidemiology, ecology, and geology to politics, philosophy, and economics. And so it's it really pulls so many domains and so many disciplines together And encourage us to us to think in very large, complex systems . Which, of course, is how we really must think about psychological safety and organizational change And the organizational dynamics in which we all work. You know, we none of us work or exist in a vacuum. Everything Inside organizations, outside organizations has an influence on on how we work and and how we feel and how we deliver and all those different cultural and and different organizational dynamics come into play. So I think that's where the interest lies.

Tom Geraghty [00:06:51]:

That's that's, like, where the really juicy stuff is. Yeah. All that systems thinking stuff.

Teri Schmidt [00:06:55]:

And that systems thinking flows through all the work and the writing that you're doing. Like I mentioned, I I really enjoy the newsletter that you put out, and encourage everyone to that. We'll make sure it gets linked in the show notes. But it is that, you know, depth and systems view that you're approaching everything from, I think, is frankly rare in our space, so I appreciate that you're doing that.

Tom Geraghty [00:07:18]:

I appreciate you saying that, and I'm it's really just my psychological I think coming out, my system's a good geek. That's fantastic.

Teri Schmidt [00:07:26]:

Well, speaking of that, let's let's dig in because I'd like to level set because a lot of people throw the term psychological safety around, and may not have a common definition of it. I know, obviously, a lot of people refer to Amy Edmondson's work, and and you do as well. But I'd I'm curious to hear, in your words, how you define psychological safety.

Tom Geraghty [00:07:46]:

Good question. Yeah. And I think so I think it's worth recognizing that Amy Edmonson wasn't the 1st person to use the term.

Tom Geraghty [00:07:55]:

But I

Tom Geraghty [00:07:55]:

do think she was the 1st person to really define it in a useful, practical, and actionable way. I tend to use Amy Edmondson's definition, which is belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, And and a belief that that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. So that's it's almost like there's 2 definitions there. 1 is that I believe that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking, but it can sometimes be hard to articulate or define what's an interpersonal risk.

Teri Schmidt [00:08:28]:


Tom Geraghty [00:08:29]:

And so that's where I think the the the little snippet there about ideas, questions, concerns, and mistakes, I think, is is crucial because We know what it's like. We know what what it means to suggest an idea, to admit a mistake, to raise a concern, and things like that because They're different things. They feel different. It's one thing to take an idea out of our heads and present it to people and allow or encourage people to To critique it and put it to shreds. The ideas are safe while they're still in our heads. Right? They're perfect. It's safe.

Teri Schmidt [00:09:03]:


Tom Geraghty [00:09:03]:

And so so it can be it's it's an act of vulnerability out there. And, you know, raising a concern, potentially implying that someone else has made a mistake or something is wrong or someone's got to do some work. Yeah. I've got to do some work. Admitting a mistake, you know, we're opening ourselves to vulnerability there through the risks of punishment or retribution or missing out on future opportunities or bonuses and incentives and things. And so these are all different things. But I if we if we just remember ideas, questions, concerns, and mistakes, if we're able to To speak those things without fear, without fear of consequences or negative consequences, then that's That's psychological safety in a nutshell, I feel.

Teri Schmidt [00:09:43]:

And do you feel like there are different kinda levels of psychological safety needed for those different components for the ideas, questions, concerns. Yeah.

Tom Geraghty [00:09:53]:

Although, I think this is where it gets well, yeah, tricky because Levels implies that there is lesser and greater psychological safety, which to to a degree is true. But in a sense, there's also different kinds of psychological safety. Mhmm. And I guess, you know, as a as a field, we haven't necessarily defined what those kinds are really yet. But in different contexts and in different groups with different people and and different, perspectives, There can be different types of psychological safety where we feel safe to do one thing, but not safe to do another. And we may feel safe to raise a concern, or we may feel safe to ask a question, but not safe to admit a mistake. And and I think you I particularly see this. In fact, this is quite, an easy one for a lot of us to to resonate with where particularly as we get more expert, as we become more experienced, as we become more experts in our fields Or, you know, have longer tenure in jobs or something.

Tom Geraghty [00:10:52]:

It can become harder for us sometimes to ask questions about about the job. I'm sure we've all been enrolled and in teams and in places where Mhmm. We've been in a job for 3, 4, 5, 10 years, and we realized there's an acronym, Three letter acronym that actually, do you know what? I don't actually know what that means. Everyone keeps saying it, and I've been here 10 years. I can't. I I can't possibly ask what that is. I'm gonna wait. I I'm gonna, you know, I'm gonna wait until, in fact, I might employ someone new and say, you ask what that is.

Tom Geraghty [00:11:21]:

Yeah. Because because I'm I can't. And so, you know, there were these interesting and strange dynamics where where some things actually get More difficult over time or less diff I know things get less difficult. So, yeah, I think there are different degrees and different types of Psychological safety is all on a very, interesting spectrum.

Teri Schmidt [00:11:41]:

Mhmm. Yeah. There's there's a lot to investigate there, and I can keep going deeper into that question, but I I do want to get to kind of the topic that we talked about talking about today. But right before we go there, I know you've had experienced in many different fields. I'm curious if you've seen differences or what similarities you've seen related to psychological safety in the different industries.

Tom Geraghty [00:12:06]:

Yeah. So this is this is to be honest, this is what makes my job so interesting. The the fact that we work with And in so many different fields from health care and aviation to technology and manufacturing And at different levels in the organization as well. You know, we we we work with senior leadership right at the top or back of organizations, And we work with people at the frontline. And whether they're in an engineering firm working on on planes who are about to take off Whatever or or or in health care, working on patient safety. And what's interesting is both where there are common Similarities and common themes across across all industries. We're we're all human after all. We all experience the same sort of Deep down fears and concerns.

Tom Geraghty [00:12:54]:

And so Mhmm. We often see that there are commonalities across every domain, every industry that we see. Fundamentally, people will not speak up with mistakes or concerns or ideas if they don't feel safe to do so. Yeah. There are different ways in which it's practiced and implemented in those different domains. In some domains such as engineering, we can we can rely on a or or, you know, an engineering culture is one where there there is element of objective truth.

Teri Schmidt [00:13:24]:


Tom Geraghty [00:13:25]:

We can say this this thing is a better is better quality than this thing. If we if we skimp on this tool, if we use lower quality component, then it's gonna result in a lower quality thing. And so in engineering and and technology, there are conversations that can Can be had which which come down to objective, rational arguments discussion. But then in other domains where it gets a bit more complex, a little more tricky, particularly in health care, for example. Mhmm. It isn't always easy to get to that objective. This is the best way to do this task or this is the best thing the best thing to use. Mhmm.

Tom Geraghty [00:14:00]:

Because it's all contextual and it's all very We have to rely on people's judgment in the moment, and sometimes that judgment after the fact is proved wrong. Mhmm. And And that's where that's where health care in particular has a real challenge because there's often a a desire sort of frame a decision after the fact as a wrong decision, in fact. And there was no you know, we we can't judge that or at least in most cases, we we can't judge. We have people make rational decisions based upon the evidence and the information and the skills they've got. Mhmm. So so it's that sort of That's an interesting difference in across different domains where Yeah. The level of information and the the level of objectivity we can have is is different.

Teri Schmidt [00:14:45]:

And and beyond that, what what would you say some of the common barriers are when you're looking at the team level? A lot of our leaders that are listening to this podcast may be in their 1st or 2nd leadership role. So if they are, you know, really wanting to create an environment of psychological safety. What might be some of those barriers that might get in their way and any ideas you have for overcoming them. Obviously, I know I'm generalizing here, and it depends on the context, depends on the industry. But anything in general, you might provide them.

Tom Geraghty [00:15:20]:

There are there are some foundational things that almost every manager, every leader can can begin to adopt. And and a lot of maybe most Managers and leaders will already be adopting these to some degree, but we can all we can always improve. We can always do better. And things like effective effective team management, effective communication, holding really effective one to ones with with team members. Really effective, really frequent, private, well to well managed and and sort of, inclusive one to 1. Like, that's that's one practice. 5th 15 fives are another really good practice of reporting. And Mhmm.

Tom Geraghty [00:15:54]:

And, you know, checking our behaviors, you know, checking in with our own body language, I think. That is key. Then there's the practices like team charters, retrospectives, Pulling the and on cord. All these sort of things, these practices and things we can implement in our teams, all very powerful things. Then there's some of the things Maybe that we don't always think about. We don't always talk about with respect to psychological safety, but do certainly do impact it. And there there are things like incentives, targets, bonuses, and these are sometimes organizations. So it's it's not always the case that managers will have the authority or ability to change in these things.

Tom Geraghty [00:16:28]:

But sometimes we can, or at least we can begin to influence them. So we think about a team who have a shared common goal and everyone's working towards that common goal, that lends itself helps to foster a greater degree of psychological safety Because everyone's working together, and no one no one on the team would undermine someone else because it would it would risk The achievement of that common goal, that objective. But in other teams, sometimes people are incentivized upon Individual goals, individual achievement, individual productivity, individual sales made or commissions made or

Teri Schmidt [00:17:02]:


Tom Geraghty [00:17:03]:

Individual targets, individual outputs. And in That case, that can damage psychological safety because particularly where there's scarcity Mhmm. Or production pressure, it means that We're incentivized or people on that team are incentivized to maybe take sales off someone else or maybe incentivize. And so we see this sometimes. I've heard this called this this this practice called rank and yank Mhmm. Which is where I I you might have come across this. Yeah?

Teri Schmidt [00:17:32]:

I have, unfortunately.

Tom Geraghty [00:17:34]:

Right. Yeah. And it's a it's a it's an awful practice, and it's it's guaranteed. Ironically, a practice that is intended to surface the highest performers and make a team high performing, actually, a lot of the time, results in a poor performing team. Because so this is the practice where we're ranking team members according to some usually arbitrary metric of productivity. Mhmm. From lowest performing to highest performing. And we we we, you know, get rid of the lowest 10%.

Tom Geraghty [00:18:04]:

And in fact, the lowest Lowest, in quotes, 10%, might be those really valuable people on the team who are like the glue people, the people who act as coaches and mentors and support Support other people on team to help everyone get their achieve their goals as a team. And so that sort of practice, hugely damaging psychological safety because no one wants to be the person at bottom. Mhmm. And helping someone out might mean use of it very, very close to the bottom because it impacts your productivity. So practices like that that that create that create competition, that create, antagonistic relationships between peoples and people on team always, created at a team level. They might be systemic. They might come from outside an organization or imposed upon the team. And that's some of the stuff that that can be more difficult to to address, particularly for middle managers.

Teri Schmidt [00:18:56]:

Yeah. And I'm curious. Can you have a team that has competition on it and employ practices that enable psychological safety.

Tom Geraghty [00:19:06]:

Yes. Yes. I I really do think you can. And in fact, we So there's there are some great practices from world of sports. Right? So if you think about Mhmm. A soccer team or a basketball team, every single player on that on that team wants to wants to perform highly, wants to be a superstar in in their own way. But if they only act in their own self interest, The team is going to fail.

Teri Schmidt [00:19:27]:

Mhmm. Mhmm.

Tom Geraghty [00:19:28]:

They're not going to be a high performing team. They're gonna lose the next 2 games. And so practices that Actually incentivize like we were just saying before, incentivize some of that glue behavior, as well as individual performance Can really support the the the the the fostering of psychological safety. And and we, you know, we need people on teams to be able to take risks, Push the boundaries, try and excel as far as they can, and that usually means sometimes going too far and and and making not succeeding in a very stretch goal or the or the thing they're trying to to do. So we have to we we we must create environments where people can Stretch themselves and push as as far as they can, which means risking failure, but knowing that the rest of the team has their back and will support them Through that.

Teri Schmidt [00:20:20]:

Yeah. So it sounds like a balance of incentivizing the individual performance and those glue behaviors like you're mentioning, whether that incentivizing is, you know, having a specific metric that actually gets directly rewarded or even just the leader modeling that both of those behaviors are important.

Tom Geraghty [00:20:40]:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Maybe modeling maybe even just, you know, just praise. Praise goes a really long way. Just that that's Particularly, as a day to day natural phrase that that we give people, that in incidentally is So much harder to do. And and often I I see lacking in teams that have become dispersed and geographically Separated and remote. You know, we we we're we're in a much more remote world now.

Tom Geraghty [00:21:06]:

Mhmm. And it's praised that I see one of the first things of Things have started to come eroded because we we don't have that passive sort of walking past someone's desk and say, oh oh, thanks for that thing, by the way. That was really

Teri Schmidt [00:21:18]:


Tom Geraghty [00:21:18]:

Right. So we have to remember to make praise, intentional and explicit because it used to be in the in the colocated world often implicit and just passive almost.

Teri Schmidt [00:21:29]:

Yeah. Yeah. And I think visible too, to other team members even if it's not. I know different people like to be recognized in different ways, and some may prefer private. But even if you do it privately, if there's some way that you can utilize technology or some other some other method to make it visible that that behavior was praised.

Tom Geraghty [00:21:51]:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. And and and a lot of the teams we work with, we use practices like social contracts and team charters. And those sorts of team agreements that that evolve and change over time, but those sorts of team agreements where we we explicitly state, These are the sort of values and behaviors that we aspires and we celebrate and we and we praise, and these are the things that we try not to do. That's that's a really powerful approach as well Because it makes it explicit, front and center.

Teri Schmidt [00:22:18]:

Right. Right. And then if teams can reinforce that, yeah, you know, their weekly meeting or or whatever gathering their doing where they can say, this isn't just something we put on the wall or or put in a file on our computer, but it's something that we're gonna hold ourselves accountable to day after day.

Tom Geraghty [00:22:33]:

Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. And it's and it's owned by the team. This is what's what's so powerful about that. It's it's not like most organizations have a sort of set of values and some Machine statement, but it's particularly in large organizations, it's rarely it rarely feels like teams have Feel ownership over that sort of thing. But if a team can create their own, the changes involved and they feel ownership over it.

Tom Geraghty [00:22:56]:

And I've you know, I work with teams that actually Sign it. I had they have, like, a physical thing or a digital thing that they put a signature and say, yes. Mhmm. I agree to this. I'm gonna commit to it. That's really powerful.

Teri Schmidt [00:23:07]:

Yeah, I love that idea. Very, very practical and, but so powerful as well. Well, let's dig into the topic that I reached out to you about, because I was fascinated. I had heard you talk about, cognitive load and psychological safety and the connection between those 2. So I'd love for you to, you know, just explain what that means. Tell us a little bit more about that and how it affects teams and leaders.

Tom Geraghty [00:23:36]:

This is really it's a really fascinating and useful model of cognitive load. And I think if we just sort of take a step back a little bit, I think One of the useful ways to think about psychological safety is that it's a calculation. Everything we say has a calculation behind A calculation of cost versus benefit. We don't say all the things that come into our head because that would be just noise. I certainly don't think say all the things that come into my head. And and so we've constantly got this filter going of, do I say that thing, or do I say this thing? Or Most of the time, it's we default to silence. It's only when the benefit of saying the thing outweighs the cost The we say the thing. It means we speak it out loud.

Tom Geraghty [00:24:21]:

And when I say speak it out loud, that might be written down or something else, but, you know, we we we put it out there. And and so Amy Edmonson has called this the mental calculus of voice. I think the the this calculation that we do, this cost benefit calculation that we do every time we speak up. And it is. It's a calculation. And sometimes that calculation is harder at other times than in than in sometimes, you know, if we're Sitting with our partner at home in in the evening, having glass of wine in front of the fire, then we we we didn't really have to think much about it. It's just Mhmm. Safe to say.

Tom Geraghty [00:24:53]:

But in other in other situations, we have to we look around the room. We think who's in this room, how many people are in this room, what are the risks to me if I say this thing out loud. So it's a it's a calculation, and sometimes it can be more difficult than others. And so this impacts our cognitive load. And there's really interesting model of cognitive load Adapted from Fraser et al in 2018. And, I first came across this in a book called Team Topologies By Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pays, which is a technology book about technology teams and how to structure them. And this cognitive This model of cognitive load breaks cognitive or cognition rather into 3 things, into x, into intrinsic, Which is the stuff that we know. The stuff the skills we have, the stuff that we know how to do, the knowledge that we have, that's the stuff that is already in our heads.

Tom Geraghty [00:25:42]:

And then there's extraneous, which is the stuff that's outside of our heads, the stuff that we have to go out and find. And so that might be Policies, paperwork, instruction manuals Mhmm. Or or whatever it is, whatever we're trying to do to complete the task. And so if we think about driving a car, if we're driving a car to a different place, it might be intrinsic is we know how to drive a car. We know how to turn the wheel and use the pedals. Extraneous might be, I need to go and use I need to look at a map to to work out how to get to the pace I'm getting to. And germane germane is the third element of this model, Which is actually doing the thing and solving the problem and making that calculation or, you know, driving a car and looking out for people and not hitting anyone. That's Germaine.

Tom Geraghty [00:26:23]:

And so whenever we're trying to, say, optimize a team, I guess, or optimize a task, what what we should be trying to do is Minimize the the requirement for intrinsic cognition, which is which is making the task easier. Yeah. Making it easier to do, making a car easy to Making a task easy to do. Minimizing the extraneous load because we need to make a task easier to to we we we might assume in a car, we might use a satnav Instead of trying to have a map on the passenger seat. And that gives us the biggest space possible for germane problem solving, for actually solving the problem. And in a business sense, this is providing business value.

Teri Schmidt [00:27:01]:


Tom Geraghty [00:27:02]:

Or in a in a health care setting, this is make this is providing the best patient outcome. But what's interesting about, about this and its relation to psychological safety is that in an environment where where our Cognitive load is high. It's harder to it doesn't leave as much space left over to to carry out that calculation of voice, that calculative voice. So where our cognitive load is high through maybe a noisy environment or distracting environment or or lots going on, Or we're really having to focus very heavily on the task at hand or understand the task at hand, we're probably going to default to silence because we Haven't got the space in our heads to to think, oh, should I say this thing out loud? Ironically, of course, one way to reduce cognitive load is to ask for help. And it's only through psych feeling psychologically safe that we can ask for help And and help with extraneous load or or or or the task at hand. And so we we can find ourselves in in certain environments in a kinda catch 22 situation where we need to feel safe to ask for help, which which increases our cognitive load and so traps us into this into this space of silence. So, yeah, that that's just why I sort of like to loop these these 2 concepts together and and and make that point. Yeah.

Teri Schmidt [00:28:25]:

It might be reiterate reiterating what you just said, but I I'd love the way that you put it in one of your blog posts. If you don't mind me just reading that back to you, and we can jump off that discussion too. You said when we feel psychologically safe, we don't need to perform the mental risk calculations and assess our vulnerability whenever we want to ask a question. Those constant tiny calculations are cognitively burdensome. Not only can an absence of psychological safety prevent us from asking the questions that could help us solve a problem, but it reduces our cognitive capacity too in a kind of psychological double whammy. That is fascinating in that, you know, if we want to innovate as a team, if we want to have effective problem solving. We have to have a low enough cognitive load from the intrinsic and extraneous point of view, so that we can get to that germane place. And the fact that, just like you said, one way to reduce, that intrinsic cognitive load could be to ask a question.

Teri Schmidt [00:29:30]:

In order to do that, we need to feel psychologically safe. And then, also, those calculations, would those fall into the extraneous than cognitive load, those calculations that we're doing to see if the risk is worth it, to ask a question or point out an error or admit to a mistake.

Tom Geraghty [00:29:49]:

Yeah. Yeah. And it's and I kind of alluded to this earlier, but the as as group size increases and as we When we're in groups with with people who are less familiar to us, those calculations become more burdensome. They become more difficult to carry out, particularly particularly when there are power differentials in that group. So if the so if you're in a in a large group with peers In the same teams or team at the same sort of level as you, then that's a somewhat yeah. That's a it's still a calculation, but it's it's a somewhat Easier calculation. Mhmm. If we're in a smaller team, even a smaller group, but there's the CEO and the CFO And the person who can choose whether to hire or fire you.

Tom Geraghty [00:30:36]:

You know, we are that calculation is much, much more difficult to do, which, you know, most of us have experienced through through interviews, job interviews, high high pressure job interviews. And and You know you've got the answer in your head. You know you can answer the thing, but it's but it's but your brain's just going it's it's so fizzy trying to work out Whether this thing is safe to say Yeah. That it just becomes overwhelming.

Teri Schmidt [00:31:02]:

That's fascinating. A little bit I don't wanna say scary, but, you know, it definitely is something to be aware of, especially if we want teams to be engaged in problem solving, if we want each individual in that team to contribute what they have to contribute because that's the reason we're in a team because everyone has something unique to contribute. And if we're not able to get that from every member that there's, you know, not much point of being in a team.

Tom Geraghty [00:31:28]:

Yeah. Exactly. And they in fact, that's why it's it's also why Diverse teams are generally so much more high performing in when they feel psychologically safe, because it's through that diverse range of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds that we can really reach those of high performing states, but only when people feel psychologically safe to bring those diverse contexts and and experiences and concerns or beliefs to to to the table.

Teri Schmidt [00:31:56]:

Yeah, that that reminds me, a friend who's an author, Farah Harris, just wrote a book called The Color of Emotional Intelligence, and she talks about the different ways that those from underrepresented groups have to use emotional intelligence. In a sense, they're reading the room all the time. And I to put it

Tom Geraghty [00:32:13]:


Teri Schmidt [00:32:14]:

Kinda parallel to what you were talking about, you know, doing those risk calculations all the time because they may have a lower face of psychological safety in every room that they're in.

Tom Geraghty [00:32:26]:

Yeah. And in fact, for many folks, the The stakes are simply higher. The stakes are higher for speaking up than others. Mhmm. That may be race and gender. It may be socioeconomic status. It may be Neurodiverse status.

Teri Schmidt [00:32:41]:


Tom Geraghty [00:32:41]:

It may be something else. But and this is where I I I firmly believe that we we cannot Truly talk about and attempt to foster psychological safety without eventually coming into intersectionality and privilege Because the stakes are higher for some than others, we we cannot simply, create, you know, create these ostensibly safe environments and imagine everyone It was equally as safe in those environments regardless of their background and past experiences.

Teri Schmidt [00:33:13]:

So what's a leader to do? So, you know, if we're talking back again to to cognitive load and, you know, what are some practical things that leaders can do to help reduce the extrins intrinsic, the extraneous, so that you can spend more time, in that germaine solving problems, innovating.

Tom Geraghty [00:33:35]:

Yeah. So there's, I guess, there's there's 2 there's 2 sides to this. Well, there's a number of sides to this, but the so there's the there's the sort of work oriented, making Tasks and work easier to do. And, yeah, that means simplifying tasks. It means checklists. It means Training and and development to make sure that people have the intrinsic cognition and ability to to carry out tasks To to the degree in which they're they're they're being asked to do so. All of that stuff. And that's relatively within the wheelhouse of mostly just to to to deliver.

Tom Geraghty [00:34:10]:

Right? Then there's the other side. There's the there's the psychological safety interpersonal side, which is which can be more challenging for for many leaders. And and that involves things like attempting to flatten or mitigate the impact of power differentials and and hierarchies. Mhmm. Recognizing that As a leader, when you're in the room, because you have more control, more, influence over people's destinies and and work destinies, That people may feel and probably do feel less psychologically safe in pointing out concerns or risks or ideas. Mhmm. And So modeling that is safe to do so is important. So so as a leader, admit your mistakes.

Tom Geraghty [00:34:54]:

In fact so, yeah, so admitting mistakes As a leader demonstrates this, somewhat safe to do so. But also, if we can't admit mistakes as leaders, how can we possibly expect people on our teams Do the same.

Teri Schmidt [00:35:07]:


Tom Geraghty [00:35:07]:

And modeling things like suggesting imperfect or incomplete ideas.

Teri Schmidt [00:35:12]:


Tom Geraghty [00:35:12]:

You know, there's there's often A tendency in teams and organizations to, to to only bring complete Mhmm. Fully formed or or or perfect ideas to the table. And imagine you know, think about how many ideas we're missing out on just because we're not allowing people to bring good but imperfect ideas to the table. And yeah. But yeah. And so so making it explicit and safe to raise concerns, ask questions, and in fact so praising people. If leaders praise people for admitting mistakes and raising concerns rather than reacting In what's is so often our sort of instinctively behavioral way. And that's that this is hard work.

Tom Geraghty [00:35:57]:

This is cognitively hard work. So if someone brings you bad news, like, you want to hear the bad news because it's already happened. That project is late Oh, we've gone over budget. We want to hear that. We need to hear that. So we want to make sure that people delivering that message feel safe to do so. And so that means even checking in with our own body language, making sure we're not slumping our shoulders, sighing, rolling our eyes, Or sending other unconscious or conscious signals that that we don't want to hear that news. That we do want to hear that news, and And we thank you for bringing it to me.

Teri Schmidt [00:36:33]:

So you mentioned it be being so cognitively taxing to do this work, to make sure that you are taking actions and acting in a way that your team is gonna feel psychologically safe. Why is it worth it?

Tom Geraghty [00:36:46]:

Uh-huh. Woah. Sorry. It's it's it's a well, it's a good question. So there there are 2 answers to that. 1 is there is so much evidence to show that, organizationally, Increasing psychological safety improves outcomes. Whether you're whether you're a commercial enterprise, a public sector organization, health care, or aviation, or whatever it is, whatever organization we're in, Increasing psychological safety not only reduces the impact sorry, the likelihood and impact of errors and mistakes, But it also increases the likelihood of improved innovation, faster delivery, you know, getting to market. So you're doing, increasing psychologicality is gonna improve your organizational outcome, the the outcome that you're trying to achieve.

Tom Geraghty [00:37:32]:

The other answer is that it's the right thing to do. It's the ethically, morally right thing to do. Even if it didn't achieve all these fantastic organizational outcomes, It would still be the right thing to do because, ultimately, we want people spend a huge amount of their time at work, and interacting at work and to and and doing the things we need them to do. And they should feel safe. We should feel safe To be ourselves Yeah. And be be happy at work fundamentally. That's you know, it it should be a human right.

Teri Schmidt [00:38:06]:

Yeah. Well, I, of course, wholeheartedly agree, but I I wanted to hear it from your perspective. Well, I could go on for a long time in this conversation. It's it's fascinating to me. But I do want to be respectful of your time and come to a close with a question that we're asking many of our guests recently, and that is, what does strong leaders serve mean to you.

Tom Geraghty [00:38:29]:

I think that ultimately means that we should be in leadership roles not because we We are aiming for status or kudos or rewards and the the luxuries or or whatever it is that come with that that leadership role. We should be leaders because we want to help other people Mhmm. Succeed and thrive and be happy and feel psychologically safe. And I do believe that leaders who who are motivated by by those things, by creating those environments for people, Ultimately, a more successful leaders anyway, and they'll probably gain more of the the material benefits and other things that come with being a good leader. But if our motivations are such that we we really want to create the conditions in which people can thrive and do their best, you know, we're going to be happier leaders. We're going to be We're gonna be more fulfilled leaders, and we're gonna create environments where where people feel more fulfilled and can thrive in their own right.

Teri Schmidt [00:39:28]:

Beautifully said. Well, thank you for that.

Tom Geraghty [00:39:29]:

Thank you.

Teri Schmidt [00:39:30]:

Well, thank you again for the conversation today. Thank you for the work that you do day in and day out. If someone wants to get connected with you and learn more about how your organization supports teams, where's the best place for them to go?

Tom Geraghty [00:39:46]:

Best place is to head over to And over there, you can you can email me at, You can so and on the website, you find. As you found, there's loads and loads of articles and resources. There are downloadable things and tools that you can use with your teams and your organizations, we have meetups. We have a community. We have a newsletter, weekly newsletter, and there's probably other stuff that I've forgotten dimension.

Teri Schmidt [00:40:16]:

Well, excellent. We'll we'll make sure that link is very prominently placed in the show notes so that people can hop right over there and explore on all the wonderful resources. So thank you again for coming on, Tom.

Tom Geraghty [00:40:28]:

Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate it, Teri. Thank you.

Teri Schmidt [00:40:36]:

Wasn't that fascinating? I just love the way that Tom incorporates so many different disciplines and has practical actionable steps that you can take today to more effectively create an environment of psychological safety for your team. I'd love to hear about what you learned from today's episode, so shoot me a message over on LinkedIn. And until next time, lead with this quote by Matt Ridley in mind: Innovation happens when people are free to think, experiment, and speculate.


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