4 min read

What is psychological safety at work and why is it important?

Experts in tech Ana Nikabadze, Tamuna Kartvelishvili and Nino Vashakmadze, discussed psychological safety in the workplace, touching on what it is, its importance, and some strategies to achieve it.

Experts in tech Ana Nikabadze, Tamuna Kartvelishvili, Nino Vashakmadze

What is workplace psychological safety?

— Organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, defined psychological safety as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking” and it refers to the ability to speak up in a work environment without the fear of being humiliated or penalized. Edmondson highlights that psychological safety focuses on conditions within the team itself. The word “team” in “team psychological safety” is very important, because “this is a group level phenomenon — it shapes the learning behavior of the group and in turn it affects team performance and therefore organizational performance.”

Team members give life to ideas and products, so their motivation, comfort, and well-being are of great importance.

Leading companies such as Google and Microsoft have already identified psychological safety as the key element for team potential. Why? Because it leads to innovation and effectiveness. These companies want their people to challenge the status quo without fear or risk, to offer their opinions, and not to bow to those with positional authority. People who feel free to do so are the ones who innovate and create competitive advantage.

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The importance of psychological safety

— When psychological safety is limited or lacking in the workplace, people suffer. It results in a reduction in innovation and productivity, and performance decreases. At the company level, this can translate into significant costs, including the departure of highly skilled employees, low engagement, poor employer brand performance, etc.

Teams that have a sense of psychological safety are more likely to:

  • Share ideas and concerns: Team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas, knowing that their input will be respected and valued.
  • Collaborate more effectively: When team members feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to work together, share feedback and knowledge, and take risks.
  • Have a higher level of trust: Psychological safety fosters trust within the team, as team members feel that they can rely on each other.
  • Be more innovative: Teams with psychological safety are more willing to experiment and try new approaches, leading to greater innovation and creativity.

Teams without psychological safety may:

  • Struggle to communicate effectively: Team members may hesitate to share their ideas or concerns, which can lead to misunderstandings.
  • Have a culture of blame and fear: When team members do not feel psychologically safe, they may be more likely to blame others or to cover up their mistakes, rather than acknowledging and addressing them.
  • Experience lower productivity: Teams that do not feel psychologically safe may be less efficient and productive due to a lack of collaboration, communication, and creativity.
  • Suffer from higher levels of stress and burnout: Without psychological safety, team members may feel unsupported and stressed, leading to decreased well-being.

In summary, psychological safety is a crucial component of team effectiveness because it fosters open communication, trust, and collaboration. It leads to increased creativity, innovation, and productivity, as well as improved wellbeing for team members.

5 strategies to create psychological safety

— Leaders can develop a culture of psychological safety by creating the right climate, mindsets, and behaviors within their teams. Active listening, open communication, empowering team members, enabling and encouraging everyone within the team — these are some of the components of psychological safety. Let’s consider some detail concerning how we can create an environment of psychological safety.

  1. Show appreciation for ideas: Some people might feel more comfortable keeping their opinions to themselves, but managers and leaders — people responsible for creating a safe workplace — should encourage everyone to voice their ideas freely. We recommend explaining clearly and specifically why you need to hear from them, why their viewpoints and inputs matter, and how their contributions will positively affect the outcome of the work. This way everyone can start appreciating different and valuable ideas.
  2. Demonstrate respect and care for your team members: “How are you doing" might seem like a simple question, but it can be a key component in team health. By getting into the practice of checking in with your employees, you demonstrate your concern and interest in them. This simple action can help team members feel more comfortable speaking up because they know you appreciate their whole selves — not just their work product.
  3. Actively seek questions and drive a positive discussion: Demonstrating an interest in what everyone has to say can be supported by asking polite and challenging questions. As your team nears a decision, pause your meeting to ask for questions, different viewpoints, and considerations that have not yet been voiced; inviting more input.
  4. Be clear and transparent: Psychological safety requires a fair amount of trust from your teammates. Be intentional about the information you share as well as your establishment of expectations and norms. Be accurate. Be realistic. Setting clear expectations and sticking to your commitments will foster a fair environment and help employees trust you.
  5. Admit your own fallibility: If a leader can own up to their own mistakes and demonstrate how they’ve learned from them, it paves the way for others. It’s important to model the behavior you want to see in your team and normalize vulnerability. This includes things like being respectful, open to feedback, and willing to take risks.

Our thanks to our partner site wearecommunity.io.