Psychological safety in the workplace is the key to a successful high performing team.With this it creates happy employees, a culture of inclusion and diversity.
“There’s no team without trust,” says Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google.
This month we are focusing on Psychological Safety in the workplace. We are diving into the deep of the human subconscious and analysing the common denominator of tech giants like Google who have continuous high-performance teams, growth and market innovation and how this strategy can be implemented in your workplace.
In this post, we are going to discuss what psychological safety is, why it’s important and the flow on effects of not having it in your team or work environment. As behavioural scientists, we believe in the true power of feeling safe, physically, mentally and socially and the profound positive impact it has on the individual and your organisation.
What is psychological safety?
According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, “psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes”.
We’ve all experienced some element of not feeling psychologically safe in the workplace at some point in our careers.
Here’s a minor example of how it starts.
You’ve just sat down in a strategy meeting with your team to discuss potential ideas for the next quarter. You have a great idea; you speak up and the person sitting across from you rolls their eyes and says something negative and shuts you down.
How did you feel in that moment? How did you want to feel in that moment?
This is a common issue that is felt universally. Moving forward, you will be reluctant to share any ideas or new thoughts you might have for fear of being shut down. This will then continue and flow on to many other aspects of your work. You’ll be hesitant to ask questions, you’ll be reluctant to voice concerns and you’ll stop taking moderate risks.
This turns into resentment, a lack of desire and poor performance. You will feel less engaged, less motivated to work and ultimately be putting your future at the organisation at risk.
Why is it important to have psychological safety?
Psychological safety is critical to team success and provides each team member with confidence that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone for admitting a mistake, showing vulnerability, asking a question or offering a new idea.
Psychological safety gives an employee the confidence to walk into work every day and tackle the tasks ahead of them with ease, agility and support. It is a mindset that aids productivity, engagement, creativity and knowledge sharing.
It is these behaviours that lead to innovative thoughts, ideas and industry breakthroughs through sensible risk taking.
In Amy Edmondson’s 1999 study on psychological safety, her original purpose was to investigate high performing medical teams and whether they made more or less mistakes than low performing medical teams (source). Conflicting with her original hypothesis, Edmondson concluded that high performing medical teams reported more mistakes than the low performance teams. Analysing her data, she found that these teams were characterised by high levels of psychological safety, leading to individuals being more willing to report their errors to their superiors.
It may be counter-intuitive that a high performing team reports more errors, but it is this feeling of safety and non-judgement that allows them to make the mistakes, resulting in more innovative and forward-thinking individuals for the ultimate success of your organisation.
What are the consequences of not having psychological safety?
The consequences and flow on effects of not having psychological safety are extensive and can lead to serious and damaging issues.
A current example that has brought this conversation to light is the recent sexual assault of a woman working in Parliament. There are also situations of workplace racism, mental health issues, work from home safety concerns and more that have made their way into our daily consciousness and have made us question why these situations are happening.
We understand the severity and importance of these conversations and we do not wish to gloss over the difficult topics of race, harassment and mental health, but in this post, we are talking to the consequences of psychological safety and how it can impact your team.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to create a safe space for individuals that wish to speak up, that wish to be heard without judgement or fear of consequence. A lot of horrible situations are potentially avoidable if there is psychological safety in the workplace.
Without psychological safety an individual:
- Will not feel safe to speak up if there is an issue with a colleague
- Will not share their ideas
- Will not show vulnerability
- Will have lower engagement with their work
- Will not be as productive
- Will not take sensible, potentially innovative risks
- Will feel judged or put down if they speak out
- Will not voice concerns or opinions
- Will not feel comfortable in their own team
- Will feel some type of resentment towards the team, leader or organisation
Psychological safety is the overarching tool that aids in the development of strong, vulnerable and honest teams that become high performing and builds individuals and subsequently, the organisation.
How do you know if someone in your team is struggling in any capacity if you don’t have the space for them to be heard, not judged and their concerns accepted and acted upon?