Psychological Safety and Why It Matters

Last week, we explored how to keep your remote workers in the loop and create engagement and foster an inclusive culture irrelevant of physical location. This week, we want to take a deeper dive and explore the concept of psychological safety, which is key in creating a safe space, so others can think and perform at their best. First, let’s get started by defining what psychological safety is and how the concept came to life. 

In 2012, Project Aristotle studied 180 teams throughout Google to identify what made some teams more successful than others. After following the teams for over a year, researchers found that team norms had the biggest impact on team success. Feeling emotionally safe and free from threats within the workplace allows people to focus more energy on work and perform at a higher level.

Project Aristotle identified that psychological safety was the key aspect and vital to building effective teams. They identified this it through the measurement of two main behaviors, which were conversational turn taking (allowing everyone to contribute to the conversation) and acknowledging social sensitivity (the ability to empathize with others). 

According to Amy Edmondson, a Harvard University professor, psychological safety is a shared belief among the team that that it is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. In this type of environment, individuals are more inclined to speak their mind, and share openly without fear of negative criticism and a punitive reaction.

How do you as a leader, create psychological safety for others? Here are a few simple tips and examples:

•Ensure your meeting agendas allow time for everyone to contribute - conversational turn-taking as noted above

•Encourage and foster a socially sensitive culture that seeks to understand others through empathy & compassion as human beings vs. what they do for the company

•Being open and encouraging others to take risks, fail fast and learn from mistakes

•Foster a coaching culture by being curious and asking open ended questions to create engagement and inclusivity

•Be vulnerable and allow your true character to shine through by being authentic and real

Team norms are the foundational pillar that enable us as leaders to create that safe space in group discussions and meetings, both formal and informal, and here are a few examples of team norms to expand on this concept:

• Openly discuss individual and team challenges 

• Promptly begin and end meetings on time

• Allow for social conversations at the beginning of meetings 

• Celebrate accomplishments

• One person speaks at a time 

• All ideas are welcome 

• Approach ideas with curiosity 

• Encourage participation from all team members

Beyond psychological safety, the research also ranked a few other characteristics that foster a high-performance culture: 

Dependability – everyone delivers quality work on time

Structure and clarity – everyone understands their role, expectations, and the team and company goals are also clearly understood

Meaning – work is meaningful to everyone; we like to refer to this as “emotional connectedness”, where everyone clearly understands how they contribute to the company’s success

Impact – team members believe their work matters and they have a sense of purpose

When all these best practices and concepts come to life, amazing things start to happen with productivity, performance, and results. It also makes your role as a leader, much easier and you will feel less pressure to “drive” or “control” performance as others will be more willing to step up and deliver their personal best.

How are you creating a safe space for those around you?  We want to hear your feedback and insights on this topic, so please me at or call me at 1.855.871.3374. I look forward to hearing from you!

Ready to partner with LeadersEdge to drive organizational performance?

connect with us