5 Practices for Cultivating a Culture of Psychological Safety

Simon Breakspear
14 May 2024

The idea: Cultivate psychological safety 

Ask yourself of your team: “In this team, is it safe to do these three things? One, ask for help. Two, admit a mistake. Three, offer an alternative.”

30-Second Version

  • Intentionally improving psychological safety enhances team performance.
  • Leaders should be aware of the levels of psychological safety in their team.
  • By leading by example, destigmatising failure and normalising asking for help, leaders can further enhance psychological safety in their teams.

 

The Full Read

When cultivated, psychological safety leads to better team learning, performance and engagement. Psychological safety provides the backbone for groups that are doing complex challenging work that requires continual learning iteration and shared diverse perspectives to get there. So what exactly is it, and how do you build it?

According to leading scholar in the field, Professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is: “A belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”

In teams that are psychologically safe, team members discuss difficult issues and problems. They ask other members of the team for help. They talk about mistakes and ways to prevent them. They’re not rejected for taking an alternative position. They feel free to share their ideas and expertise and they feel safe to take intellectual risks. They value and respect each others’ contributions. So how can we cultivate this culture within our teams?

 

5 practices for cultivating a culture of psychological safety:

  • Lead by example: Make sure your team knows you don’t think you already have all the answers – express your own uncertainties and learning gaps.
  • De-stigmatise failure: Reframe mistakes and near misses—this helps to stop people hiding failures to protect themselves. For example, share a recent mistake that didn’t work out as planned.
  • Normalise asking for help: Plan “we need next” sessions where every team member identifies one area of additional support, knowledge or capacity building that they need. Create space in weekly 1:1s to draw out where someone needs help.
  • Reward innovation, not outcome: Intentionally recognise and encourage team members who take innovative approaches irrespective of the outcome.
  • Run “fail forward” sessions: Host termly meetings where team members share a recent failure or mistake, and discuss what they learned from it.  

Challenge → How would you rate the level of psychological safety within your team? Which of these practices could you implement this month?

Want more? Here’s a great read from Harvard Business School on four steps to building psychological safety.

 

Listen to the podcast on psychological safety >

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