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Sunday, October 22, 2023

What Is Psychological Safety?

Amy Gallo
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted 15 FEB 23

Here are two excerpts:

Why is psychological safety important?

First, psychological safety leads to team members feeling more engaged and motivated, because they feel that their contributions matter and that they’re able to speak up without fear of retribution. Second, it can lead to better decision-making, as people feel more comfortable voicing their opinions and concerns, which often leads to a more diverse range of perspectives being heard and considered. Third, it can foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement, as team members feel comfortable sharing their mistakes and learning from them. (This is what my boss was doing in the opening story.)

All of these benefits — the impact on a team’s performance, innovation, creativity, resilience, and learning — have been proven in research over the years, most notably in Edmondson’s original research and in a study done at Google. That research, known as Project Aristotle, aimed to understand the factors that impacted team effectiveness across Google. Using over 30 statistical models and hundreds of variables, that project concluded that who was on a team mattered less than how the team worked together. And the most important factor was psychological safety.

Further research has shown the incredible downsides of not having psychological safety, including negative impacts on employee well-being, including stress, burnout, and turnover, as well as on the overall performance of the organization.


How do you create psychological safety?

Edmondson is quick to point out that “it’s more magic than science” and it’s important for managers to remember this is “a climate that we co-create, sometimes in mysterious ways.”

Anyone who has worked on a team marked by silence and the inability to speak up, knows how hard it is to reverse that.

A lot of what goes into creating a psychologically safe environment are good management practices — things like establishing clear norms and expectations so there is a sense of predictability and fairness; encouraging open communication and actively listening to employees; making sure team members feel supported; and showing appreciation and humility when people do speak up.

There are a few additional tactics that Edmondson points to as well.

Here are some of my thoughts about psychological safety:
  • It is not the same as comfort. It is okay to feel uncomfortable sometimes, as long as you feel safe to take risks and speak up.
  • It is not about being friends with everyone on your team. It is about creating a respectful and inclusive environment where everyone feels like they can belong.
  • It takes time and effort to build psychological safety. It is not something that happens overnight.