Psychological Safety in the workplace was a concept first theorized by Amy Edmondson. She defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” The concept however grew tremendously in popularity once Google identified it as the top attribute of an effective team. Vast research by Google proved that It was by far the most important aspect of an effective team. Since then most organizations have tried to identify various ways of improving psychological safety in work groups.
But before we talk about how to improve psychological safety in the workplace, let’s first understand what psychological safety is and why it is important. It is the feeling that you can express yourself openly without the fear of being put down or having a negative impact on your image, career and status. In an environment that is psychologically safe, people feel confident to take inter-personal risks – meaning they speak their mind without the fear of being judged. Such an environment gives rise to high performing teams that take intelligent risks and are more innovative. A research by Baer and Frese indicated that psychological safety improves the likelihood of success of a project or innovation that is undertaken.
Now that we know the what and why of Psychological Safety, let’s understand the how.
Here are ways to improve psychological safety in work groups:
- Encourage and invite ideas from everyone. This means conducting structured brainstorming sessions on critical things and encouraging discussions around various ideas in general. Schedule such discussions on a regular basis – like weekly meetings.
- Allow everyone to be heard. This is important since most discussions are highjacked by a few people who are vocal with their opinions and often, the quieter ones don’t get to express their opinions. To create a psychologically safe workplace, it is important to allow everyone who wants to share an opinion is given a chance to do so.
- Encourage Collaboration. While all teams recognize the importance of collaboration, very few encourage collaboration in a concrete way. Collaborating often can bring down barriers that people may face in expressing themselves to each other. It also allows the opportunity for people to build rapport and relationships that create a level of comfort between people.
- Appreciate people for sharing their ideas and thoughts. The biggest barrier to creating a psychologically safe environment is when people are penalized for expressing themselves, this may be a subtle joke that is creaked when someone expresses their opinion or being shut down without being given the opportunity to share your ideas completely.
- Another important way to create an environment of psychological safety is to replace blame with learning. Every mistake should be taken as an opportunity to learn not to find fault with someone or something. This makes people comfortable in taking risks and trying out new ways of doing things.
Psychological Safety is a simple yet very powerful tool to build truly high-performing teams. If managers and team members can work on create an environment where everyone feels safe to try, fail and express then tremendous success will come your way.