What is psychological safety and why does it matter to your business?

Learn more about the vital ingredient that is psychological safety in ensuring that your team are working effectively together.

by Rebecca Bridger & Rosie Minikin

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What is psychological safety and why does it matter to your business?

In 2012, Google held over 200 interviews with their employees to find out what the most important elements of an effective team are.

The most crucial factor that underpinned all of the findings was the importance of having psychological safety. But what is psychological safety? And why should it matter to you?

We explore this further, including how you can get started measuring this within your team and organisation today! 

What is psychological safety?

Amy Edmonson, a global leader in organisation learning and professor at Harvard Business School, was the first person to coin the term “psychological safety”. 

"Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes"

Amy Edmonson, Organisational Psychologist Tweet

In short, it is the ability for individuals within a team to feel like they can speak openly without fear of any negative repercussions.

For most of us, this is a minimum expectation of the workplace; however, it is not always guaranteed and without awareness of it as a leader or manager, psychological safety can be easily undermined or eroded.

Why is psychological safety important?

It’s a given that it is far more pleasant to be in a setting where psychological safety is present; however, why does it have such an effect on overall performance?
 
According to Google’s research, the fear of social rejection is one of the most powerful elixirs for inhibiting behaviour. When we are concerned about saying the wrong thing, we adjust how we act.
When used in the right way, penalties can be effective at discouraging undesirable actions; however, when uncertainty is allowed to permeate, it puts the brakes on progress.
Energy is directed away from the achievement of goals and instead towards self-protection. People second-guess themselves before speaking up or taking action and often just comply or stay silent. This dilutes the vast potential of talented people to only the most dominant characters.

What are the consequences of not having psychological safety?

When psychological safety isn’t present, teams suffer the following consequences:

  • Skills development is halted or regresses due to the impact on self-confidence
  • The team will be slower to identify and resolve errors and mistakes
  • Work produced will rarely leverage the best ideas and suggestions

 

What are the benefits of psychological safety?

When a team does have psychological safety, it brings the following benefits:

  • Builds trust and engagement within the team
  • Course correction happens more quickly
  • Team is motivated to strive for the best results

How safe do your team feel to speak up?

Now that you know more about what psychological safety is and why it’s so vital for success, how do you test if your team measure up?

Amy Edmondson developed a simple survey in her study of ‘Psychological Safety and Learning Behaviour in Work Teams‘. To help you test your team we have made them available in two formats for you to use with your team:

  1. In a FREE PDF resource that you can download and print out or email around to your team
  2. An online survey that makes it easy to collect results from your team – simply share the link and once they fill in the form, they can submit their results anonymously to you for analysis
 
 

Everyone can perceive things differently, and key events can change things, so we recommend using this form to check-in with the team every 3-6 months.

If any of this has been of interest and you would like further information on how this can be used to further your own development, or that of your colleagues, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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Rebecca Bridger & Rosie Minikin

Rebecca Bridger & Rosie Minikin

Rebecca Bridger & Rosie Minikin joined forces in the Summer of 2020. Both coaches, with a background in facilitation and professional services, they share a passion for empowering and enabling others by giving them the tools that they need to be successful.
Rebecca Bridger & Rosie Minikin

Rebecca Bridger & Rosie Minikin

Rebecca Bridger & Rosie Minikin joined forces in the Summer of 2020. Both coaches, with a background in facilitation and professional services, they share a passion for empowering and enabling others by giving them the tools that they need to be successful.

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