Psychological Safety by Amy Edmondson
Psychological safety: This article explains the psychological safety theory, developed by Amy Edmondson in a practical way. The article begins with a practical example of psychological safety, followed by the Psychological Safety definition. You will also find information about its origin. The article concludes with tips and recommendations for creating a psychologically safe working environment for your employees. Enjoy reading!
What is Psychological Safety?
Consider the following example: Chris, a respected team member of a team just starting a new project, approaches the project manager to voice his concerns about the project plan and approach that has been discussed.
Instead of listening to Chris’ objections and concerns, the manager dismisses Chris’s ideas, telling him that Chris has no idea of the complexities of the project and that he has to stop commenting.
Other team members choose to remain silent, fearing the consequences if they do speak up and question the manager’s decisions.
In this situation there is psychological insecurity. Chris chose to voice his concerns, but was dealt with harshly. The manager’s response shows that there is no room for constructive feedback and no room for expressing opinions or challenging authority.
In a psychologically safe environment, Chris would have felt safe to voice his concerns and the manager would treat his opinion with respect. The team members would also feel psychologically safe to express their concerns in the future.
The term ‘team psychological safety’ was coined by Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School.
The term refers to the idea that a team or organization provides an environment where employees feel free to express themselves and take risks.
Psychological safety can be defined as the shared belief held by members of a team that they can bring their full personality to work, share their ideas and opinions, without fear of humiliation or fear of consequences, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.
According to Edmondson, psychological safety is crucial for the functioning of so-called high-performance teams, especially in today’s competitive market.
Psychological safety does not mean creating an environment free of conflict or disagreement. Rather, it’s about employees feeling free to discuss and challenge each other’s ideas in a way that is respectful.
Why is psychological safety important?
As mentioned, psychological safety is crucial for high-performance teams and organizations for several reasons.
Firstly, it ensures open and honest communication, which leads to better collaborations, innovations and a strong problem-solving capacity.
When an employee feels safe sharing his or her perspectives, that employee is more likely to challenge the status quo and experiment with new approaches to his or her work.
This ultimately leads to more creative outcomes and better results. Not only does it increase team performance, it also improves employee motivation because it creates a strong sense of ownership.
In addition, a sense of psychological security allows team members to build and maintain strong relationships with other members of the team. When they feel they can share their shortcomings and share their experiences, a sense of empathy and understanding for colleagues arises.
Psychological safety is therefore closely linked to motivation and results. Without this feeling, employees are more likely to come across as disinterested and awaiting.
How has psychological safety evolved?
The concept of psychological safety in the workplace has received a lot of attention in recent years. Its usefulness and importance is becoming increasingly important to managers.
Psychological safety has obviously always been important. Yet it is becoming increasingly important due to the complexity and uncertainty associated with modern business.
In the past, organizations were more hierarchical than they are today. It was normal to follow managers’ instructions and orders almost blindly and employees were expected not to challenge authority.
This corporate culture does not heed the importance of psychological safety and employees have been reluctant to share their ideas and opinions.
For many people it therefore felt like a liberation that an innovative shift has been observed in work environments in recent years. More emphasis was placed on honest and transparent communication, creativity and risk-taking.
In fact, many organizations make it a priority to create such an environment for their employees.
However, there is still a long way to go for many organizations. The extent to which it becomes normal to share ideas and challenge authority also depends on the culture of the country in which the organization operates. Geert Hofstede drew that conclusion after conducting research for his theory of cultural dimensions.
How do I measure psychological safety in my work environment?
An article from the Harvard Business Review lists some questions to ask to determine whether there is a safe culture at work.
The way these questions are answered shows whether this is the case:
- Are you allowed to make mistakes in your work environment without fear of consequences?
- Are team members allowed to express concerns and discuss issues?
- Are team members allowed to have different opinions? Or does everyone have to be on the same page?
- Is it safe for you to take risks in that team?
In his book ‘4 Stages of Psychological Safety’, organizational anthropologist Timothy R. Clark discusses four levels of psychological safety that cover similar questions for employees:
- Can I be my authentic self?
- Can I grow?
- Can I create value?
- Can I be candid about change?
How do I foster psychological safety for my employees?
There are several things that managers and companies generally can do to create a psychologically safe environment for their employees.
Let employees know that their opinion matters
When building psychological safety, one of the most important things companies can do is create an environment where employees feel valued. It is essential to let them know that their opinions and ideas matter.
Ensure an open and transparent communication style in the organization and regularly hold town hall meetings or feedback sessions.
Embrace vulnerability and humility
Managers and other leaders in the organization should not shut themselves off from their own shortcomings. Once employees see this, they will realize that they are also allowed to make mistakes and ask for help with the things they are responsible for.
Encourage active thinking and participation
Managers and other leaders should encourage employees to actively participate in business processes and workplace regulations, regardless of their position or reputation within the organization.
Methods that can be used for this are brainstorming sessions, team building activities or collaborative initiatives.
Respond to feedback in a productive manner
It is an absolute necessity to respond constructively, respectfully and positively to feedback received. This applies to employees as well as managers and other leaders within the organization.
As soon as employees notice that their input is not appreciated or that nothing happens with it, they will be inclined to provide feedback less often.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation about psychological safety? Do you feel that you can be yourself in the workplace? Do you have experience working in a psychologically unsafe place? What did that do to you? And your motivation? What tips or comments can you share?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative science quarterly, 44(2), 350-383.
- Edmondson, A. C., Kramer, R. M., & Cook, K. S. (2004). Psychological safety, trust, and learning in organizations: A group-level lens. Trust and distrust in organizations: Dilemmas and approaches, 12(2004), 239-272.
- Edmondson, A. C., & Lei, Z. (2014). Psychological safety: The history, renaissance, and future of an interpersonal construct. Annu. Rev. Organ. Psychol. Organ. Behav., 1(1), 23-43.
- Egeler, A. (2023). Build better teams with psychological safety: Make every team you are a part of more engaging and innovative. Retrieved 01/16/2024 from Udemy.
How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2023). Psychological Safety (Edmondson). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero: https://www.toolshero.com/psychology/psychological-safety/
Original publication date: 01/16/2024 | Last update: 01/16/2024
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