3 best ways to build psychological safety in the workplace

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I believe that Psychological Safety is one of the most important capabilities a team can have to achieve high innovation performance.

Check out the amazing podcast episode with the originator of the concept, Prof Amy Edmondson.

To describe it simply:

Psychological Safety is a climate where people believe it is possible, expected and valued, that they speak up with relevant ideas, questions, concerns and even mistakes.

According to Prof Edmondson’s research, people produce their best work when they are in an environment with high motivation and accountability, as well as high psychological safety. She calls this the “Learning zone“:

Psychological Safety

It is similar to when our skill level and challenge are well aligned, we are able to get into a flow state.

But how do we actually go about creating this climate?

Prof Edmondson outlines three things which teams and leaders can do to creative a culture of Psychological Safety:

  1. Frame the Work
    • Remind people of the nature of the work, and add meaning to the work. Not in sense of “we do this to meet these quotas”. But instead show what the outcome of the work is for the end customers. What difference does it make in the world.
    • When people understand what the work achieves, it gives them more of a motivation to achieve it, and accountability in making sure it happens.
  2. Model Fallibility
    • As a leader, it is not your job to have all the answers or micromanage all the work. You also don’t need to put on an indestructible facade like a suit of armour, pretending that you don’t make mistakes.
    • By showing you are human and make mistakes, it shows the rest of the team they can be honest about their performance as well.
    • Invite input from all team members: “I may miss something, I need your help”
  3. Embrace Messengers
    • When someone brings negative news, thank them for it. If we think of failed experiments like a scientist, we know this is valuable information and data which will help us improve and potentially prevent the issues happening again in the future.
    • Don’t shoot the messenger