Psychological safety: the key to high-performing teams

In today’s dynamic work environment, psychological safety is a key component of successful organisations. It’s about creating a culture where employees feel safe to share their opinions, ask questions and challenge ideas without fear of negative consequences. When this state exists in a team, doors open for innovation, collaboration and high-performance results.

Professor Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School introduced the concept of ‘psychological safety’, describing it as an atmosphere where individuals feel accepted and respected [1]. It is about creating a shared belief among members of a team that it is safe to take interpersonal risks.

Psychosocial safety is crucial to an organisation’s success for several reasons. Firstly, it fosters innovation and creativity. When employees feel safe to share their ideas and challenge the status quo, it creates an environment where new solutions can flourish. Studies, including Google’s comprehensive ‘Project Aristotle’, show that psychological safety is the most important factor in building an effective team [2].

Second, psychological safety increases engagement and co-operation. In a culture of openness and support, employees are more likely to share information and help each other. This leads to stronger bonds between colleagues and an overall improved work environment. Finally, psychological safety promotes learning and development. Creating an environment where mistakes are seen as part of the learning process encourages continuous improvement. Employees are encouraged to experiment and learn from their mistakes, leading to greater innovation and customisation [3].

To create and maintain psychological safety, the role of leadership is crucial. Leaders should be open, accessible and encourage dialogue to create a safe working environment. In addition, it is important that leaders deal with mistakes constructively and recognise them as learning opportunities. An inclusive culture is also central to promoting psychological safety. By valuing different perspectives and creating an environment where diversity is valued, organisations can build strong and dynamic teams [4].

How to ensure that your organisation is psychologically safe:

Using tools such as 360-degree assessments can be an effective strategy to develop leaders and promote psychological safety. By gathering feedback from different perspectives, leaders can gain a holistic view of their strengths and areas for development.

Ultimately, the investment in creating a psychologically safe workplace is an investment in the success of the organisation. By fostering innovation, collaboration and learning, organisations can build strong and resilient teams that are ready to face the challenges of the future.

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[1] Edmondson, A.C. (1999) Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350-383.

[2] Google. (2015) Project Aristotle. Retrieved from Google Re:Work

[3] Kahn, W.A. (1990). Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work. Academy of Management Journal, 33(4), 692-724.

[4] Frazier, M. L., Fainshmidt, S., Klinger, R. L., Pezeshkan, A., & Vracheva, V. (2017). Psychological Safety: A Meta‐Analytic Review and Extension. Personal Psychology, 70(1), 113-165.