What is psychological safety?
In a workplace and a team environment where there is no psychological safety, team members may choose to not put forward suggestions and ideas as they are afraid to do so. They fear being laughed at, criticised by others or even fear that their job may not be safe if they speak up. As a result, you never get to see or hear the real person and what they have to contribute.
The desirable state of a workplace that feels psychologically safe is one where employees are encouraged to ask questions, to say if they do not understand, to offer suggestions and alternative options. Team members are respectful and do not rush to judge. This can be helpful in learning environments as well as team meetings; project meetings etc. and encourages innovation, creativity and employee engagement.
Google’s ‘People Operations’ (HR to us!) studied what makes a team great and found good grounding in the need for psychological safety for teams and team members. In an article1 on re:Work, Julia Rozovsky from Google explains that their assumptions about compiling the dream team of individuals for success were wrong.
“Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.
We learned that there are five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google:
The Google research found that the most important aspect was psychological safety and that this underpins the other four areas.
Returning to the earlier points about what will promote psychological safety, we are reminded that we need to have a work/team environment in which people feel safe to ask questions, admit mistakes, take on new responsibilities, work collaboratively, offer suggestions and alternative viewpoints without the fear of being judged to be wrong or less informed.
How do you increase psychological safety?
Looking at the results of the Google study and actions, we see a summary2 as follows:
The alternative to blame is curiosity. Ask for solutions. The people who are responsible for creating a problem often hold the keys to solving it. That’s why a positive outcome typically depends on their input and buy-in.
If you create and nurture a sense of psychological safety with your team, you will see higher levels of engagement, increased motivation to tackle difficult issues, more openness, more learning and development opportunities, and better performance.