You may have never used the exact terminology before, but if you’ve ever felt secure, safe or content within a team you might well have been experiencing what is known as psychological safety. Psychological safety is a critical building-block of the continuous improvement process.
Psychological safety is defined as, “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”. In other words, psychological safety means team members feel accepted and respected within their current roles.
The notion of psychological safety was first introduced by organizational behavioral scientist, Amy Edmondson, who coined the phrase and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”
“It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves,” states Edmondson.
It wasn’t until Google realized how important psychological safety is that most people began to take it seriously. Google wanted to find out what it takes to build the most effective team possible, so they launched Project Aristotle.
It was a mammoth task, consisting of hundreds of interviews and the analysis of data taken from over 100 active teams at Google. Interestingly, the key finding was that above all else, psychological safety was crucial to ensuring that a team works well together.
As Project Aristotle highlighted, creating an environment of psychological safety moves the needle in a meaningful way. In addition to the findings from Google, research by Baer and Frese suggests that psychological safety being present in a working environment improves the likelihood that an attempted process/innovation will be successful. It has been found to:
During her TEDx Talk on “Building a psychologically safe workplace”, Amy Edmondson pointed out that there three main things to consider when trying to create psychological safety in teams:
With Edmondson’s factors taken into consideration, here are some ways you can encourage and cultivate an environment of psychological safety
In an attempt to make your team more successful, you first need to establish a baseline and measure improvements over time. You might think you have a good feel for your team, but it’s surprising what you’ll learn when you actually measure for psychological safety.
In order to measure this, Edmondson asked team members how strongly they agreed or disagreed with these questions:
In summary, if you’d like to have a more innovative, engaged and effective team, then creating an environment of psychological safety is worth cultivating.