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What is Psychological Safety? Why is it the Key to Great Teamwork?


What is Psychological Safety? Why is it the Key to Great Teamwork?

In 2015, Google published their results from a two-year study into what makes a great team. The interesting thing is that it wasn’t necessarily the teams that had the most senior people, those with the highest IQs or even teams that made the least amount of mistakes.

Based on their findings the Google team came up with a list of the 5 key dynamics that make great teams successful: psychological safety, dependability, structure & clarity, meaning and impact.

While all five were needed to create a successful team, psychological safety stood out as the most important factor.

According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, who coined the term: “Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

The interesting thing, is that what Amy Edmonson and Google both found in their separate studies is that the teams which made more mistakes were actually more successful. Creating an environment in which people feel comfortable to take risks is key to fostering innovative workplaces.

Have you ever been in a meeting where no one voiced their opinions, there was no discussion and people simply went along with what their manager said? A truly great team is able to bounce ideas off each other, strengthen action plans, help solve issues and provide support. 

For inspiration see professor Amy Edmondson’s TEDTalk on “Building a psychologically safe workplace.”

Steps to foster psychological safety in your workplace:

1. Lead by example

  • Ask for upward feedback
  • Acknowledge your mistakes
  • Make an effort to take on board opinions that differ from your own
  • Be approachable and encourage reports to ask questions

2. Encourage active listening

  • Leave phones at the door during meetings
  • Show understanding by repeating what was said
  • Encourage people to share more by responding and asking questions
  • If certain individuals rarely speak during meetings, actively ask them for their opinion

3. Create a safe environment

  • Don’t allow people to interrupt each other
  • All ideas should be accepted equally and never judged
  • Never place blame
  • Encourage out of the box and off the wall suggestions, as they often lead to the most innovative projects

4. Develop an open mindset

  • Help your team become comfortable receiving feedback from each other
  • Teach them how to first listen, analyze and then respond to input from others
  • Rather than a criticism, encourage your team to see feedback as a way to strengthen their ideas
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