Efforts to improve the workplace by incorporating research have led to the creation of more diverse and inclusive workplaces. This practice has continued to enrich our outlook on building a safe and efficient workplace.
Recently, Google-led research called “Project Aristotle” looked into the composition of an ideal team at work. The Google team found that there were five key dynamics behind a successful team: psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact. While all five factors are crucial to team dynamics, psychological safety stood out as the most important.
We’ll look into the meaning and stages of psychological safety at work with the aim of understanding its value and successfully integrating it into the workplace.
What is psychological safety?
Feeling safe, secure, and content within a team is an indicator of a psychologically safe workplace. According to Amy Edmondson, the organizational behavioral scientist who coined the phrase, psychological safety is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” In addition, it is characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect that allows the members of a team to be comfortable being themselves and speaking their minds.
Manifestations of psychological safety in the workplace include team members feeling safe and secure when speaking up, being their true selves, and sharing their honest thoughts and opinions. Workers should also feel comfortable enough to raise naive questions or even disagree with the way some things are being run in your company.
Psychological safety does not require everyone to be uncharacteristically nice all the time. It only means that the teams at work are ready to embrace conflict because each team member trusts the team and vice versa.
Value of psychological safety
If people in an organization do not feel psychologically safe, they will either quit or become detached from the group. The latter can be more harmful because disengaged team members can be resentful, unproductive, and obstructive to organizational initiatives. In other words, the lack of psychological safety at work has major consequences for the business and for employees. Meanwhile, a safe workplace can aid you in retaining your top employees and ensuring that employees are making valuable contributions.
Another consequence of the lack of security when speaking up is that the organization will not be able to prevent failure because people are uncomfortable talking about practices that are ineffective. When employees are fearful and unengaged, the organization will lose the opportunity to maximize their talents and strengths.
A climate of fear and uncertainty hurts innovation but a climate of respect and trust will elevate all the organization’s initiatives. Hence, building a workplace founded on psychological safety can boost employee morale and is crucial for every stakeholder.
4 stages of psychological safety at work
Psychological safety at work begins with a feeling of belonging. Before employees can even formulate and verbalize ideas for improving the organization, they need to feel that they are accepted. Otherwise, they will not take the risk of asking questions and making bold suggestions.
Dr. Timothy Clark, author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation, outlined the four stages that employees need to pass through before they feel comfortable enough to challenge the workplace’s status quo.
Stage 1: Inclusion Safety
It all starts with Inclusion Safety, which satisfies the human need to feel connected and accepted in a group. In this stage, employees should feel safe enough to be themselves because they feel accepted for who they are. Their unique attributes and characteristics should be fully recognized and accepted.
Stage 2: Learner Safety
After feeling that they belong to the organization and to their respective teams, employees have to satisfy their need to learn and grow. In the second stage, Learner Safety, employees feel safe while engaging in the learning process. So, they can comfortably experiment, ask questions, give and receive feedback, and commit mistakes.
Stage 3: Contributor Safety
Now that the employees have learned the ropes, they will feel the need to make a difference in the organization. Employees who have reached the stage of Contributor Safety should feel secure in using their skills and talents to make a meaningful contribution to the group.
Stage 4: Challenger Safety
Contributing to the company’s success does not end at contributing ideas and skills. Employees in the stage of Challenger Safety will satisfy their need to improve the work environment. They feel safe enough to speak up and challenge the status quo whenever they see opportunities to change or improve the organization. Employees who have reached this level of safety are on their way to becoming effective leaders.
How to create psychological safety in the workplace
In a TED Talk, Amy Edmondson pointed out that there are three main considerations in building a psychologically safe work environment. First, you should framework as a learning problem and not an execution problem. That way, team members will focus on what can be learned from the process and not just whether or not they can execute what is required from them. Next is to acknowledge fallibility. Even the best employees and leaders make mistakes. Recognizing this will allow team members to avoid problems such as blaming each other when projects go wrong. It emphasizes accountability among individuals and teams. Last but not least, it is vital to model curiosity. Leaders and team members alike should ask lots of questions to make sure that they are on the same page and on the right track when doing an assignment.
Besides Edmondson’s advice, there are simple and practical ways to ensure that your workplace is psychologically safe.
- Include your team in decision-making. Having weekly check-ins, open discussions where members are free to write or state their opinions is one way to do this.
- Ensure that everyone has had a chance to speak and give suggestions before announcing which suggestions you support.
- Whenever possible, experiment with different ideas rather than settling on one option.
- Appreciate and properly engage team members who challenge your views.
- Encourage group discussions for settling conflict instead of people keeping problems to themselves.
- Establish norms for handling suggestions, failure, and even conflict. Routines will help people remember and continuously practice healthy behaviors.
- Explicitly state that psychological safety is a priority in your workplace. That way, you can educate members more directly about psychological safety.
Take The LEAD
Psychological safety is a feeling of safety and security founded on trust and respect in the workplace. It must be prioritized because it impacts every stakeholder in an organization. Psychological safety is a key to great teamwork. It also determines the success or failure of an organization’s initiatives because it affects employee retention and productivity.
A company culture app like LEAD.bot can strengthen your workplace psychological safety by providing an inclusive workplace platform where everyone can connect, feel warmly welcome, learn, speak up when needed and extend a helping hand for the company’s improvement. Since LEAD serendipitously connects employees across teams, it can be used not only to spark collaboration but also to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs that promote justice and collective growth. For best results, we recommend companies to set communication rules and add the rules as a hyperlink into LEAD.bot’s intro message before starting their DE&I matching programs.
- Involving members in decision-making.
- Appreciating team members who challenge the status quo.
- Creating routines and norms for suggesting ideas, addressing conflict, and managing failure.
- Explicitly declaring that psychological safety is a priority.
- Model behaviors that improve psychological safety such as curiosity.