Psychological Safety: The Secret of Top Performing Teams

When organizations create deeply inclusive environments, employees feel safe to learn and contribute. By psychological safety, you can accelerate learning, increase the contribution, and stimulate innovation within your team.

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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Psychological safety is a condition in which individuals feel safe to express their concerns or opinions without the fear of being marginalized, embarrassed, or punished by their boss.

In an interview with the Digital HR Leaders podcast, Novartis Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, Amy Edmondson, defines psychological safety as "a shared belief that the environment is conducive to interpersonal risks, like asking for help or admitting a mistake."

According to the professor, criticizing a project can be challenging when employees feel that they are not at the place where that kind of feedback is okay. Nevertheless, high-performing teams are the ones that create an environment for people to speak up and be honest in the workplace.

Regarding the step leaders should take to create psychological safety, Edmondson insists that being utterly clear and transparent about what we're up against it's a good way to do so.

When leaders are setting the stage by reminding people that it's okay to be honest, they understand why their voice might be needed.

"Clearly, anyone could see something that you or others miss," highlights the professor.

Psychological safety is all about being proactive and promoting an inviting voice. Questions like "What's on your mind?" "What do you see?" "What concerns do you have?" and "What questions do you have?" make it more difficult for people to remain silent because you've issued those invitations.


Edmondson adds that is crucial how you respond: "You must not shoot the messenger." When people come forward with ideas, bad news, or anything else, you have to take a deep breath and respond in a forward-looking appreciative manner. By being assertive with your communication, you are promoting psychological safety.

According to Chad Littlefield, speaker and Co-founder of We and Me, a great way to start to promote this culture in the company is to open a transparent discussion about the following points:

-If I make a mistake in this team, it is held against me.

-Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.

-People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.

-It's safe to take a risk on this team.

-It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.

-No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.

-Working with members of this team, and my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

A common and unlucky scenario usually happens at work is someone sharing an idea and another stealing it and getting all the credit for it. Another problem is that many people feel like their skills are not being fully utilized in their team. Being able to bring these discussion points to the table with your boss and co-workers is crucial for building better relationships.

The company that popularized the finding that psychological safety is the number one indicator of a high-performing and innovative team was Google. The multinational technology company proved this by studying the results within Google teams internally within their 100.000 plus employee base. Now you know the secret to have a more engaged team and a happier environment at work.

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