Psychological Safety – What is It and Why is It Important?

Have you ever worked on a team where team members:

  • Concealed their mistakes and weaknesses?
  • Didn’t ask for help or feedback?
  • Didn’t offer to help outside of their area of responsibility?
  • Jumped to conclusions about the intentions of others?
  • Held grudges?

It is likely that your team didn’t have much psychological safety. This is a term that we hear a lot lately but what does it really mean? Psychological safety is a shared belief amongst team members that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Said another way, it means that people can bring their full selves to work, speak out, and challenge the status quo without fear of retaliation. 

Why is it important? 

Google’s “Project Aristotle” is a study of what made a high-performing team at Google. They found that psychological safety was the most important trait.

In teams with high psychological safety, members feel that it’s okay to make mistakes and be imperfect – and this leads to deeper, more cooperative relationships and elevated teamwork. Additional benefits include better retention and productivity. 

Let’s talk about some ways that you can boost psychological safety on your team:

    1. Make it a priority – Explain what psychological safety is and explicitly state that it’s something that you would like to work towards as a team When everyone is on the same page about what kind of culture you’re striving for, you can work together to create that setting. 
    2. Model it – Psychological safety requires stepping out in vulnerability. If you are a leader, go first and then recognize team members who are willing to do the same. If you aren’t a formal leader, be brave and willing to be vulnerable to help the team!
    3. Facilitate everyone speaking upShow genuine curiosity and be open-minded, compassionate, and willing to listen when someone is brave enough to say something challenging the status quo. Facilitate meetings to ensure that everyone has some airtime – not just the vocal members.
    4. Understand and appreciate the strengths and differences of others – We all have strengths and weaknesses that we bring to the team, but everyone is valuable and has something to contribute to the group. Taking an assessment like the Enneagram, the Working Genius, or the DISC as a team can help with this! 
    5. Ask for feedback – Welcome feedback from your team members. Asking for feedback makes it known that you are willing to accept your own mistakes and work on yourself.
    6. As a team, process these questions and develop a plan of action based on responses
        • What can we count on each other for?
        • What is our team’s purpose?
        • What is the reputation we aspire to have?
        • What do we need to do differently to achieve that reputation and fulfill our purpose.
    7. Establish norms for handling failure or mistakes – Don’t punish experimentation and reasonable risk-taking. Show recognition that mistakes are an opportunity for growth.

Also, try to avoid these behaviors that could damage psychological safety on your team:

  • Gossiping and bad mouthing others  
  • Forming cliques or isolating others 
  • Dismissing the comments/ideas of others 

Now that you have learned about the importance of psychological safety, implement some of these suggestions with teams that you are a part of at work – and even outside of work. It will make a big difference!


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