“Psychological safety describes people’s perceptions of the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in a particular context such as a workplace” Amy C. Edmondson
The phenomenon of psychological safety first appeared in organisational literature in the mid 60’s. A key researcher in the area, Edgar Schein believed that when individuals feel psychologically safe they are free to focus on collective goals and problem prevention rather than on self-protection. According to Amy Edmondson, a leading academic in the field, “organisational research has identified psychological safety as a critical factor in understanding phenomena such as voice, teamwork, team learning, and organisational learning.”
In 2015 Google published findings from their own research in the area. Following a four-year study looking at the dynamics which influence team performance (psychological safety, dependability, structure, meaning of work and impact) Google identified that Psychological Safety was by far the most influential dynamic affecting team performance. Furthermore, it was identified that those who were part of psychologically safe teams were less likely to leave Google.
The research tells us that psychologically safe environments yield better results, higher performance and greater revenue. With the bonus of reduced staff turnover, it is something which should be instilled in company culture at board level. Typically, in environments which are not felt to be psychologically safe team members will not be eager to share ideas, discuss problems or disagreements. When communication doesn’t flow freely there can often be a knock-on effect, employees can become disengaged, feel undervalued and will inevitably leave the organisation.
Improving the psychological safety of your team will have an immediate impact on employee experience and enable individuals to perform at their best. There are several ways a leader can improve the psychological safety of their team environment;
- Encourage Learning from Mistakes – it’s important for your team to know that they can make mistakes. Failures should be shared and learned from
- Admit Your Own Mistakes – it’s uncomfortable to say, “I messed up” but as a leader if you can admit to your own mistakes then your team will feel more comfortable doing the same
- Be Inclusive – in an increasingly diverse workforce including everyone is more important than ever. In team huddles and meetings ask people by name if they have any questions, feedback etc.
- Encourage Questions – no matter what stage a project is at encourage questions and appreciate those who are forthcoming with questions
- Ask Questions – the more questions you ask of your team the greater their involvement in find solutions.
- Be Open Minded – when you encourage people to share ideas and ask questions it is important to be open minded when you receive the feedback. Not everything has to be acted on but all ideas should be encouraged.
- Establish Accountability – People feel safe when they are confident about who is doing what
- Be Available – Always reiterate that you are there to help and support your team and your door is always open (if you have a door)
Author: Sara Glynn, Marketing Manager @Wrkit