Are you able to be yourself at work, make mistakes, take risks, ask questions, raise problems or disagree?

If your answer is yes, then psychological safety may be high within your team or workplace.

Unfortunately for a lot of people, their work environment is ruled by fear; they are constantly in impression management mode so they don’t ever appear ignorant, incompetent, intrusive or negative in front of their colleagues.

Psychological safety is a concept that has been explored by organisational scholars since the 1960s yet it has experienced a renaissance over the past couple of decades.

Its popularity has risen in part due to Amy Edmondson, a Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, who has undertaken a number of studies and shown that psychological safety plays an important role in workplace effectiveness (Edmondson & Lei, 2014).

Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.

Amy Edmondson

Psychological safety enables a feedback and learning culture within teams so peers can learn from one another, which is recognised as important to both innovation and growth. It is an environment where team members feel safe to take risks, make mistakes and be vulnerable in front of one another without getting in trouble. Today, many leading companies are exploring what psychological safety means and how they can adopt its principles given the benefits it provides.

Why is psychological safety beneficial?

There is evidence to suggest that psychological safety is the foundation to build a great team, and is one of the prerequisites for high performing teams.

In fact, in 2012, Google launched a study known as “Project Aristotle“, which aimed to find out what distinguishes their high performing teams from their low performing teams. One of their key findings was that psychological safety is a predictor of team performance and can make great teams successful.

So how can psychological safety be built?

In Edmonson’s TED Talk, which has been watched over 350,000 times, she suggests that building a climate of openness often starts with leaders, and they can start building psychological safety by undertaking the following three activities:

  1. Invite engagement and get everyone’s voices and brains involved in
    problems so they can become an opportunity for learning
  2. Acknowledge your own fallibility
  3. Model curiosity by asking a lot of questions and responding

Isn’t psychological safety just another word for trust?

Psychological safety is often confused with trust yet they are different. Psychological safety is associated with group norms i.e., how group members feel they are viewed by others in the group. Whereas, trust focuses on a belief that one person has about another. Both are vital to the success of a team and to an organisation’s culture.

For more information on psychological safety, a google search will bring you up millions of results or you can read Edmonson’s book The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth.

If you are interested in measuring your team’s psychological safety, you and your peers can take Edmondson’s survey.