Three Signs You’ve Created a Culture of Psychological Safety

Mikaela Kiner
If candor, risk-taking, and a feedback culture are the norm for your team, chances are you’ve achieved a high level of psychological safety. Psychological safety is more than being comfortable with and liking your teammates. It’s the belief that your work environment is safe for personal risk taking.

Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor who identified the concept of psychological safety in teams, has written extensively about its benefits. In short, if people are afraid to speak up at work, their team will miss out on important questions and creative ideas that can improve their performance.

Here’s how psychological safety shows up on teams.

You can admit you’ve made a mistake

It’s much easier to admit a mistake when you’re confident that it won’t be used against you. Effective teams have a shared understanding that examining what went wrong leads to better results in the future. On psychologically safe teams, there is no shame resulting from honest failure.

You don’t have to know it all

It’s acceptable to admit that you don’t understand something or have a question that seems basic. You can admit to gaps in knowledge and receive critical feedback on your ideas without being criticized as a person. The focus is on continuous learning.

All voices are included and respected

Leaders who want safety value the perspective of every individual on their team. They know that each team member is an expert on their own work and has unique insights to offer. Conformity is not expected. In a team characterized by respect, there is no stigma for speaking up if you disagree even with the most popular ideas.

Cultivating psychological safety

The risk taking required to foster psychological safety is counterintuitive. Most people are hesitant to act in a way that might make colleagues question their competence or judgement. Leaders can overcome those natural defenses using two strategies.

Demonstrate the behavior
As a leader, you can set a precedent for humility by admitting mistakes and consistently reinforcing that failure is part of life and contains valuable lessons.

Make it routine
Teams at Google found that adopting new group norms, such as beginning team meetings by sharing a risk taken in the previous week, increased psychological safety ratings by 6%.

Want to learn more about creating psychological safety in your organization? Contact us at info@reverbpeople.com.
Mikaela KinerMikaela Kiner, CEO & Founder of Reverb, is a native Seattleite who's spent the last fifteen years in HR leadership roles at iconic Northwest companies including Microsoft, Amazon, PopCap Games and Redfin. She has an MS in HR Management with a certificate in Organizational Development and is an ICF credentialed coach. Mikaela delivers results by building trust and engaging her clients in creative problem solving. Clients appreciate her strategic thinking and hands on execution. You can find Mikaela on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. reverbpeople.com

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