Ever heard the term Psychological Safety?

The term “psychological safety” is thrown around a lot these days.

Organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson of Harvard first introduced the construct of “team psychological safety” and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”

Taking a risk  around your team members may sound simple. But is it?

What does this actually mean?

Simply put, it’s a shared belief that it’s OK to take risks, express ideas and concerns, speak up with questions, and admit mistakes without fear of negative consequences like feeling embarrassed or even stupid.

To foster psychological safety on your team or within your group, start by making it clear why you need to hear from all your team members, why their viewpoints and input matter, and how what they share will affect the outcomes of the work. It involves encouraging a growth mindset.

This means, actively inviting input, and asking open-ended powerful questions like;

  • What do you make of it?
  • What is the part that is not yet clear?
  • What is one more possibility?
  • Do you see something that the others haven’t?
  • And my favorite – short and sweet; What else?
Be prepared to respond with appreciation and positivity—even if someone’s idea is not so fabulous. Find the good aspects in it to call out.

To support those team members who are more introverted, you might try using the “fist of five” *to make all voices heard. It’s a great tool to level the playing field for all members in the team regardless of rank.

Two additional tips:
  • Set clear expectations regarding outcomes and the appropriate time frame.
  • Model courageous and trusting behavior.

If you, as a leader, demonstrate tolerance for not being perfect, own up to your mistakes, and confidently demonstrate how you’ve learned from them, you’ll pave the way for others to do the same. It’s important to model the behavior you want to see in your team and normalize vulnerability.

Remember: Real collaboration requires at least some form of social or intellectual intimacy.

Prof. Amy Edmondson is the expert on “psychological safety”. Listen to Amy talk with Adam Grant on “ Is it safe to speak up at work?” They examine what it takes to build a culture of voice rather than silence.



*p.s. What is a “Fist of Five”? 

This cool simple tool comes from the agile world. It is nonverbal voting. People hold their fingers up, one to five, to show their level of agreement with a statement. What an easy way to check the temperature of the discussion! Works online too. Once people vote, you can invite anyone with one or two in the air to speak and share why the statement does not resonate with them. The discussion is inclusive and richer while creating more options for a real consensus.


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