What is Team Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is the feeling that one can speak up and share their ideas or thoughts without negative consequences, such as ridicule or rejection. At work, psychological safety is a shared expectation that team members can freely express their concerns or suggestions without risking punishment.


Psychological safety is different from psychological mindfulness or trust. It’s specifically a group-level phenomenon. This means that the feeling of safety derives from the group’s collective experience and perception within the group setting.


In practical terms, individuals may feel willing or reluctant to share their ideas based on the setting. A psychologically safe environment functions as a ‘judgment-free’ space whereby participants are assured that they can express their thoughts without social repercussions.


It’s important to note that psychological safety doesn’t mean that everyone agrees or is overly nice to each other. Rules of politeness, courtesy, and other social norms are related, but not integral. Likewise, disagreement can be healthy and productive.


Team leaders shouldn’t encourage members to agree with every idea that’s shared. But, what is imperative is that no idea is subject to ridicule, or punishment.



The Importance of Psychological Safety in the Workplace

The importance of psychological safety in a workplace environment cannot be overstated. Employees who feel psychologically safe are more likely to provide valuable contributions to group discussions, and voice legitimate concerns to management.


In contrast, employees who don’t feel safe will become risk-averse, less creative, and more disengaged from their work and colleagues. Some of the main benefits of psychological safety at work include:


  1. Encourages Innovation and Creativity

    Innovation is only possible within a psychologically safe environment. Creativity requires out-of-the-box thinking, and coming up with new ways to tackle old problems. Employees who don’t feel safe to suggest radical changes will keep potentially brilliant ideas to themselves.


    In short, psychological safety is the key to maximizing the creative potential of your workforce.

  2. Increases Employee Engagement

    Employees who don’t feel heard or respected will emotionally distance themselves from their work and colleagues. Ensure a “judgment-free” environment to foster a sense of belonging and increase motivation.

  3. Reduces Employee Churn

    Employees who feel unsupported or undervalued are far more likely to quit.

  4. Improves Mental Health

    Psychological safety can also have a positive impact on employee mental health. When employees feel safe to express their emotions and concerns, they are less likely to experience stress, anxiety, or depression. This can lead to a happier and healthier workforce.


How to Measure Psychological Safety?

So how do we assess psychological safety, what are the tell-tale signs of a safe vs unsafe environment? An atmosphere is intangible, so empirical methods aren’t of any value here. But, there are several things that team leaders should look out for to determine the psychological safety of their workplace:



  • Is there a sense of interpersonal trust?

    Trust is a key indicator of a psychologically safe environment. Do employees feel willing to share in confidence? If not, then there’s no chance they’ll openly share ideas or

  • Is there mutual respect between team members?

    Mutual respect means recognizing and valuing each team member’s unique contributions and perspectives. Respect can be fostered using public acknowledgment and active listening,

  • Are employees comfortable with open dialogue?

    Do employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas in an open forum? If team leaders sense that members are reluctant to express suggestions freely then it’s a clear sign that they don’t feel psychologically safe.

  • Is there a blame game culture?

    Part of psychological safety is the feeling that you won’t be reprimanded for being honest and taking personal responsibility. If employees are constantly shifting the blame onto colleagues then your workspace has a problem


    Similarly, if employees aren’t comfortable admitting they don’t know something, then it’s time to invest in creating a psychologically safe workplace.


How to Build Psychological Safety in the Workplace


  1. Implement Leadership Strategies

    Leadership plays a crucial role in creating a psychologically safe workplace. Leaders should:


    • Encourage open communication and active listening
    • Acknowledge and address mistakes and failures
    • Foster a culture of trust and respect
    • Provide clear expectations and goals
    • Offer support and resources for employee well-being
  2. Establish Team Dynamics

    Building psychological safety requires a collective effort from all team members. Teams should work together to create an environment where everyone feels valued and supported. Team members should:


    • Encourage each other to share their thoughts and ideas
    • Avoid interrupting or dismissing others
    • Embrace diversity and different perspectives
    • Hold each other accountable for their actions
    • Celebrate successes and learn from failures as a team
  3. Adopt Communication Practices

    Effective communication is essential for creating a psychologically safe workplace. Employees should feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or retaliation. To achieve this, organizations should:


    • Encourage open and honest communication
    • Provide opportunities for feedback and discussion
    • Avoid blaming or shaming individuals for mistakes
    • Establish clear communication channels and protocols
    • Provide training on effective communication techniques


    By implementing these strategies, organizations can create a psychologically safe workplace where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas, leading to increased innovation, engagement, and productivity.

  4. Address Unconscious Biases

    Biases based on race, gender, age, or education level can pose a barrier to psychological safety. If employees sense that their ideas aren’t valued due to these factors, they won’t feel comfortable sharing their opinions.

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