Building Psychological Safety at Work: Five Steps to Take
Why is building “psychological safety” at work so critical for an organization? Before we answer that, let’s start by stepping back and answering the big question: “What is psychological safety at work?”
The term originates from the Harvard Business School professor and author Amy Edmondson, who did pioneering research on the topic in the late 1990s. Put simply, psychological safety—as defined by Edmondson—is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” Check out this video for a “deeper dive” into the subject:
So, why is psychological safety at work so important? Building psychological safety at work is the key to a happy and productive workplace. Research shows that the presence of psychological safe teams within an organization:
So what kind of steps can organizations take to start building psychological safety at work? Here are five ways to get started:
Build a Diverse Workforce
One of the best ways to build psychological safety at work? Make sure that you create a diverse, inclusive workforce for employees. That means actively taking steps to attract employees from across the diversity spectrum—everything from age and gender to race and ethnicity (you can explore the different types of diversity in the workplace in our guide here). The more diverse and inclusive a workforce is, the more comfortable and collaborative (and productive) teams are.
Foster Mutual Understanding of Roles and Responsibilities
Crystal-clear rules and responsibilities for all team members are one of the most important—and most overlooked—aspects of creating a psychologically safe workplace. Team members unsure of their project roles and responsibilities or facing things like unsure or unsettled timelines, poor directions, unclear deliverables, or other elements can quickly feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed, confused, lost, and dread coming into work every day. Even worse, without a clear understanding of rules and responsibilities, the thought of “one set of rules for one group of people, one set of rules for another” could also set in—a recipe for dissension and dissatisfaction. Thought, planning, and clear communication around roles and responsibilities for every team member—management on down—is absolutely vital to maintaining psychological safety throughout the organization.
Provide Opportunities for all Team Members to Contribute Regularly
Few things are more harmful to the psychological well-being of a team member than the feeling that they aren’t being given the opportunity to contribute. Ignoring or overlooking a team member’s potential contributions can make them feel undervalued, hurt, or isolated. Instead, managers and leaders should make sure to actively seek out contributions from all team members across all business settings—in virtual and in-person meetings and in other situations (planning, brainstorming, sprints, etc.) where their thoughts would be welcome.
Create an Environment Where Team Members Feel They Can Speak Up and Be Heard—Without Personal Judgment or Attacks
As Edmonson’s definition of “psychological safety” states, team members should feel they contribute without being “punished or humiliated.” That means that team leaders and management need to work to create a space where all members feel open and comfortable to bring up ideas, ask questions, voice concerns, and even make mistakes that lead to lifelong learning. An environment where team members feel free to talk about critical issues before they derail a project and take important chances (even if they don’t work out in the end) is one that is collaborative, innovative, welcoming, and extremely productive.
Provide Your Team With Tools That Promote Ongoing Learning, Discussion, and Engagement
Every team in any industry needs the right business training and tools in order to work collaboratively and productively. Along with that, high-performing teams also need the right tools to promote ongoing learning, discussion, and engagement in order to secure that psychologically safe workplace. Providing your organization with tools that give insight into different work styles and cultures (like GlobeSmart from Aperian Global) or inclusivity strengths and areas for improvement (like the Inclusive Behaviors Inventory from Aperian Global) can make for a valuable building block for a psychologically safe working environment.
Everyone deserves to feel like they belong at work; the new-and-improved Inclusive Behaviors Inventory℠ (IBI) is an easy-to-use assessment that allows you to develop your own inclusion profile and get simple steps for improvement.