Psychological Safety is the ability to be oneself and express thoughts without the fear of negative consequences of status, career or self-image. This translates over to the workplace and is essential to bring out the maximum potential of each employee and garnering the benefits of individual differences at the workplace.
Psychological safety at workplace assures one that there is no social threat like negative branding, ridiculing response or punishment while engaging in activities like admitting errors, seeking feedback, expressing lack of knowledge on a subject matter, trying something new or voicing out unpopular opinions. It requires interpersonal trust and mutual respect for every member on the team. The trust and objectivity are extended even when mistakes are pointed out and the matter is taken as a point of improvement than as an individual error.
Research shows that psychological safety allows employees to be their whole self at work, and express their abilities, talents and skills without filtering their opinions or self-silencing. It also helps them in continuously learning on the job and help their own development as well as the development of their team. It was found to be one of the five dynamics that contributes to team success in a study conducted by Google.
They also noted that out of the five dynamics, psychological safety was the most important factor. The psychological safety can be assessed by how employees say they present themselves at work, what they say and believe about their co-workers, the way employees interact with one another and treat one another, and the common practices and norms.
Psychologically safe teams do not harness conformity or passivity instead members are encouraged to have thoughtful and open debates. It also encourages productive conflict where the point of conflict is focused on a task, process or the way an activity is performed. There are no personal statements made during these kinds of conflicts, instead it is treated as an objective but passionate discussion on a work dimension.
Such teams share information openly and often and also encourage the identification and discussion of threats even those that would be considered low priority by other teams. By learning how to identify risks, they are empowered to take calculated risks and experiment with the support of their team members.
Psychologically safe teams not only utilize the core competencies required for achieving the organizational goals, but they also garner the individual differences and fringe skills that each individual adds to the workplace to bring out the maximum potential and ensure success and the achievement of organizational goals.
In the above study conducted by Google, they found that teams that made mistakes were more successful. The reason being that they were not afraid to take risks and that lead to increased levels of innovation.
Psychological safety also encourages a sense of belongingness and collective identity in the team and contributes to building a healthy and efficient organizational climate. Hence investing in the cultivation of psychological safety is beneficial for both the organization and its employees.