Improving employee psychological safety is a crucial aspect of any thriving workplace. According to research from Google’s Project Aristotle, the #1 most important factor for high-performing teams was psychological safety. Research from Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, finds that teams with high psychological safety have more innovation, higher creativity, more inclusion, and better error prevention.
By fostering an environment where team members feel secure, you can increase employee satisfaction, motivation, and overall performance. In this article, we will delve into effective strategies to enhance psychological safety on your teams. Managers may have more direct influence on the culture and norms of a team, and individual contributors can also take ownership of creating a more supportive and inclusive work environment with these actionable steps.
Table of Contents:
- Encourage open communication
- Promote a culture of trust
- Embrace diversity and inclusivity
- Recognize and reward positive contributions
- Train managers and supervisors
Understanding psychological safety
To improve psychological safety, it's important to first understand what it means for you and for your team members. Psychological safety refers to an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of negative consequences. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to speak up, share ideas, and collaborate with their colleagues.
Psychological safety means employees can be themselves and do their best work.
Signals of psychological safety can be subtle. Look for teams and team members who are not afraid of expressing opinions, presenting new ideas, and trying things that ultimately fail. You will also find individuals who trust their leaders and colleagues and can openly ask for help when they need it.
Signals that psychological safety is low are much more obvious. Scores of low morale and low confidence, as evidenced by internal employees surveys or Glassdoor ratings, are leading indicators. Over time, a lack of safety in suggesting new ideas means reduced creative problem solving and innovation. Perhaps the loudest signal of poor psychological safety is an increase in employee turnover.
Improving psychological safety on your team or in your organization
A psychologically safe work environment does not happen overnight. It requires the commitment and efforts of leaders, managers, and employees to create and maintain an environment of trust, respect, and openness.
Below are five practical ways organizations can improve their employees' psychological safety. Each item can be as large as a strategic initiative, but it doesn’t have to be. Even small changes from leaders and managers can make a huge difference for employees.
1. Encourage open communication
Transparent and open communication is essential for building psychological safety. Employees should feel encouraged to voice their opinions, ask questions, and share ideas.
- Foster a culture of open communication by setting an example as a leader
- Implement regular team meetings and one-on-one check-ins to facilitate discussions
- Create anonymous channels for employees to provide feedback and raise concerns
- Encourage employees to actively listen and respond respectfully to their colleagues
2. Promote a culture of trust
Trust is the foundation of psychological safety. Employees need to trust their colleagues and managers to create an environment where they feel supported.
- Be transparent about company goals, expectations, and decision-making processes
- Encourage honesty and open dialogue, even when discussing difficult topics
- Lead by example: show that you trust your employees by giving them autonomy and responsibility
- Address trust issues promptly and professionally
3. Embrace diversity and inclusivity
A diverse and inclusive work environment fosters psychological safety by making employees feel valued and respected for their unique perspectives.
- Encourage diversity in hiring and promotion practices
- Provide training and resources to help employees understand and appreciate different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives
- Create opportunities for employees to collaborate and learn from one another
- Actively address and prevent discrimination, harassment, and bullying in the workplace
4. Recognize and reward positive contributions
Acknowledging employees' efforts and achievements can boost their confidence and promote a sense of belonging, enhancing psychological safety.
- Regularly recognize and celebrate individual and team successes
- Implement a system for peer recognition and appreciation
- Offer both monetary and non-monetary rewards for exceptional performance
- Encourage employees to share their accomplishments with the team
5. Train managers and supervisors
Managers and supervisors play a vital role in fostering psychological safety. They should be equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to support their team members and create a positive work environment.
- Provide training for managers and supervisors on psychological safety and its importance
- Teach leadership skills such as empathy, active listening, and effective communication
- Encourage managers to create a supportive and open environment within their teams
- Offer ongoing professional development opportunities to keep managers up-to-date on best practices
Make a plan, deliver, assess and adjust
Improving psychological safety is an ongoing process. Everything starts by creating a plan for how you’ll measure and manage psychological safety in your organization.
For example, one of our customers created an internal survey that asked, “Do you feel comfortable sharing new or risky ideas with colleagues?”. This was a five point scale from “Strongly disagree” to “Strongly Agree” and this customer asked at the beginning of implementing Rising Team and then again after running Psychological Safety sessions with their teams. They saw a 16% improvement and knew they were on the right track!
Actionable next steps:
- Perform an employee engagement or team pulse survey to identify areas of strength and areas for improvement
- From your internal survey and readings, identify potential barriers to psychological safety in your team and your organization
- Create and commit to a 1 year strategic plan to address high impact blockers
- Communicate your plan to employees and leave room for feedback and input from your team members (that’s the point after all!)
- Do a collaborative Psychological Safety session with your teammates creating individual user manuals
- Discuss then write down team norms so everyone is aligned
Bringing it all together
Improving employee psychological safety is essential for creating a thriving workplace where employees feel valued, supported, and motivated to perform their best. By implementing the strategies outlined in this article, you can foster an environment that promotes open communication, trust, diversity, and inclusivity. Remember to recognize and reward positive contributions and invest in the development of managers and supervisors. Regularly assess and adjust your efforts to ensure continuous improvement, and watch as your organization reaps the benefits of a psychologically safe work environment.
If you want to keep learning more about this topic, here are some additional resources:
- High Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It (Harvard Business Review)
- Psychological Safety and the Critical Role of Leadership Development (McKinsey)
- Amy Edmondson course on Psychological Safety (LinkedIn Learning)
- What is Psychological Safety at Work? (Center for Creative Leadership)
- What Psychological Safety Looks Like in a Hybrid Workplace (HBR)
- The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson