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Psychological Safety: how it can enhance the success of your team


Psychological safety represents a significant aspect of group dynamics. An increasing number of studies (including Google’s two-year research on team effectiveness) show that the impact of psychological safety is especially crucial in the workplace, as it constitutes the most important factor influencing the success of a team. Businesses of all sizes should focus on ensuring a constant feeling of psychological safety to pursue a high level of workplace productivity. But what exactly is psychological safety and how can it impact the performance of your team?

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is the belief that you will not be penalised when you make a mistake. More generally, the term regards a feeling of security occurring in the context of a group-based environment, where individuals can express their creativity and curiosity and exploit their full potential through collaboration and risk-taking. In the workplace, this means that employees are not discouraged by the possible negative consequences of speaking their mind – instead, they feel stimulated to moderately stick their necks out and step out of their comfort zone.

Why is it important for your business?

The above-mentioned study by Google shows that the companies with the highest detected levels of psychological safety are also the most successful. When employees feel at ease in the workplace, they are more motivated, productive, collaborative and finally, happy. Barbara Fredrickson and Thomas Joiner have found that positive emotions broaden our minds and create an upward spiral towards emotional well-being, making us more resilient and able to bounce back from negative experiences. Moreover, when we feel safe we are more eager to learn and to accept new challenges. All these conditions create a work environment where any dynamic that is detrimental for the performance of your team, such as conflict and blame, is replaced by healthy and constructive team dynamics that ultimately ensure higher productivity.

How to achieve it?

This article by Laura Delizonna for Harvard Business Review highlights the steps taken by Google’s head of industry Paul Santagata to increase the psychological safety of its team. Although every team might have different requirements, this 6-step guide provides a good foundation to start building a solid psychological safety in your own team.

  1. Be a collaborator, not an adversary. Handle conflict with a collaborative attitude by seeking a mutually desirable solution.
  2. Remember they are “just like you”. Everyone has similar objectives and needs that must be recognised, in order to promote trust and positive behaviour.
  3. Predict reactions and plan countermoves.  When you need to communicate something, imagine three ways your audience is likely to react, and how you should respond to each of those scenarios.
  4. Be curious, not critical. If you notice a problem with someone’s behaviour, do not let them feel like you are blaming them. Instead, try to engage them in a conversation and explore causes and possible solutions for the issue.
  5. Ask for feedback. One of the best ways to increase trust in leaders is asking for feedback. Not only it can improve your communication skills, but it can help deliver tough messages more smoothly.
  6. Measure. Ask your employees how safe they feel and how they think their feeling of safety can be increased. Ask direct questions and collect data through regular surveys.

Your employees represent the core of your business and their engagement is strictly related to the success of the whole business. As a leader, you must also be able to gain trust and loyalty within your team: read our blog post on what makes a good leader.

Don’t underestimate the potential of a motivated and happy team: start building solid psychological safety in your organisation today.