fbpx

With hybrid work settings becoming more common, and increased awareness of workplace bullying, harassment, and diversity, the question of how to build team cohesion has become even more important.

Building stronger teams means creating spaces where people can be honest, take risks, learn from mistakes, and share ideas without fear of backlash — key elements of a psychologically safe workplace.

What Is Psychological Safety?

Spearheaded in the 1990s by Dr. Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard University, psychological safety has become synonymous with the notion of high-performing teams. This was highlighted in Google’s 2012 research study, “Project Aristotle,” on what makes great teams, which uncovered one key element: psychological safety.

According to Dr. Timothy Clark, founder and CEO of LeaderFactor, there are four progressive stages in the development of psychological safety:

  1. Inclusion Safety — promoting a sense of belonging among team members.
  2. Learner Safety — encouraging experimentation and learning from mistakes.
  3. Contributor Safety — enabling the sharing of ideas without the risk of reprisal.
  4. Challenger Safety — allowing for the questioning of each other’s’ ideas, including of those in positions of authority, and offering suggestions for change.

This final stage is crucial not just for driving innovation but also potentially stopping bad concepts from being implemented that could be harmful to the organization.

Why Create Psychological Safety?

When people feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to learn new things and collaborate with others, which can boost team performance, job satisfaction, and trust-building. As Ron Carucci (2021) noted, psychological safety can provide the bedrock for an honest work culture.

In contrast, an organization without psychological safety can potentially face an increased likelihood of lying, cheating, and self-interest.

How Can We Build Psychological Safety?

How can leaders make psychological safety more of a reality within their organizations? Dr. Laura Delizonna (2017) of Stanford University cites the following tips:

  • Aim for mutual benefit when negotiating with others.
  • Take a collaborative, rather than adversarial, approach for managing conflicts.
  • Communicate in a way that recognizes each other’s needs (e.g., showing respect, acknowledging competence).
  • Choose to be curious rather than find fault for placing blame.
  • Invite feedback.
  • Conduct team check-ins for assessing psychological safety regularly.

Ultimately, creating psychological safety begins with you. Even if you are not in a leadership position, you have your own sphere of influence. What can you start doing to help make your workplace more psychologically safe for your employees, co-workers, and yourself?

Suggested Resources

 

Blog post by Kerry Bezzanno, Canadian Certified Counsellor.

Meet the Author

References

Carucci, R. (2021). To be honest: Lead with the power of truth, justice and purpose. Kogan Page Ltd.

Delizonna, L. (2017, August 24). High-performing teams need psychological safety: Here’s how to create it. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/08/high-performing-teams-need-psychological-safety-heres-how-to-create-it

Geraghty, T. (2021, June 15). The four stages of psychological safety. Psychological Safety. https://psychsafety.co.uk/the-four-stages-of-psychological-safety/#:~:text=Summary%20of%20The%20Four%20Stages,%2C%20Contributor%2C%20and%20Challenger%20Safety

McCausland, T. (2023, March–April). Creating psychological safety in the workplace. Research-Technology Management. https://doi.org/10.1080/08956308.2023.2164439

Mitterer, D. M., & Mitterer, H. E. (2023). The mediating effect of trust on psychological safety and job satisfaction. Journal of Behavioural and Applied Management, 23(1), 29–41. https://jbam.scholasticahq.com/

Tkalich, A., Šmite, D., Andersen, N. H., & Moe, N. B. (2024, January/February). What happens to psychological safety when going remote? IEEE Software. https://doi.org/10.1109/MS.2022.3225579