Fostering Deeper Team Connections Through Psychological Safety

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When you think of the term “psychological safety”, what comes to mind? In a workshop hosted by Post’d featuring guest speaker Katie Stricker, President and Co-founder of Sayge, the words security, vulnerability and candor are a few of the first things that came to mind for attendees. If psychological safety is a term you have not heard before or something you don’t think has a place in your organization, it’s time to get familiar with it as it sits at the top of the list when it comes to understanding what makes effective teams. 

Psychological safety is the shared believe that a person, or a team, is safe to take interpersonal risk. It means being able to show one’s self without fear of negative consequences on their self-image, status or career. When someone is psychologically safe, they feel both accepted and respected by their teams.

A two-year study on what makes teams great conducted by HR at Google revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety.  The study showed that when it comes to teams, what matter is not who is on the team, but how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions. 

It was found that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking one’s mind, creativity, and ‘sticking one’s neck out without fear of having it cut off’. All behaviors that lead to breakthroughs. Building psychological safety and employee trust is one way to help teams feel more connected to each other. When teams don’t feel connected, it can ultimately lead to negative impacts on the organization’s goals, resulting in resentment and low levels of engagement.  Building and supporting the psychological safety of your employees takes practice.  A culture that supports psychological safety is the difference between a company that launches a new and successful product and the company that is still looking for a solution. When there is space for employees to show themselves and openly share their ideas, they feel they are trusted and can trust others, and it is here that innovation and team connectedness flourish.

Think about these 2 scenarios:

  • A manager invites her junior employee into a brainstorming meeting. The employee is enthusiastic and excited to collaborate and give her input. On the day of the meeting the manager pulls the employee aside and says to “sit on the side and just listen”. The manager has given the message that this employees voice is not welcomed, and maybe even not trusted. Not wanting to disobey her manager, the employee sits in silence for the entire meeting, even though she feels she has a great idea to share.  
  • A manager calls a brainstorming meeting. You, a mid-level employee have been thinking through solutions to improve a work flow for your company. You share your idea with the group and the department director says “We already tried that a few years ago and it didn’t work. Any other ideas we haven’t already tried?”. At future meetings, this employee chooses not to speak up for fear that her idea will be shot down again. 

Can you think of other ways that leadership could have responded to these employees to protect their psychological safety? Whether you could or not, here are three steps from the book The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson that leadership can take to foster an environment where employees feel safe enough to be themselves and share their ideas .

1) Set the stage: Set expectations and identify what is at stake, why it matters and for whom
2) Invite participation: Let your employees knows that their voices are welcomed. Give them the opportunity to join critical conversations. Let them speak and give input. Encourage their participation and allow for failure.
3) Respond productively:  Listen, acknowledge and thank employees for sharing their ideas, then offer to help, discuss or brainstorm next steps. 

Creating teams where candor is encouraged is more likely to result in effective teams. When teams feel encouraged by leadership and one another to share their ideas and bring them full selves to work each day, employees become people again, and those people are on the same mission. Allowing room for failure gives the message to employees that it is okay to try and be wrong, because there will be failed ideas, and failed ideas get teams that much closer to success. 

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