What is Psychological Safety?

Two people exchanging a high five in a virtual meeting, Frankli performance management and engagement software

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A term first coined by Amy Edmondson in 1999, psychological safety is now mentioned in most conversations about people-centric work, as we endeavour to crack the code on building and sustaining high-performing teams. But to create a climate of psychological safety, we first need to understand it, and learn how to measure it on our teams. So let's dive in.

What is Psychological Safety?

Professor Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking” (1). In environments of psychological safety, everyone on the team feels supported to ask questions, speak up, disagree with team mates, admit mistakes, and take risks. And they do so without worrying about facing embarrassment, rejection or punishment as a result.

Why is Psychological Safety so Important?

Psychological safety has been shown to have positive effects on employee engagement, employee turnover, creativity and performance (2). In environments of psychological safety, people are more likely to innovate quickly, unlock the benefits of diversity, and adapt well to change (3). Psychological safety appears time and time again as a common thread among the world's top-performing teams. If we want to support our people to do their best work, it's something we've got to take seriously.

Frankli encourages idea sharing, open communication and autonomy through goal-setting and engagement features.

How do you Measure Psychological Safety at Work?

A great way to measure psychological safety at work is to include a few of the following questions in your next employee survey. These questions are designed to be answered using the Likert Scale (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree). In psychologically safe environments, you'd expect a high agreement rates for each.

  • I can take risks on this team without fear of embarrassment or punishment.
  • We disagree respectfully on this team.
  • My manager values my ideas.
  • My team mates value my ideas.
  • As a team, we are quick to discuss problems.
  • I feel comfortable raising issues with my manager.
  • I feel comfortable raising issues with my team mates.
  • I feel comfortable informing my manager that I've made a mistake.
  • I feel comfortable informing my team mates that I've made a mistake.

How do you Create Psychological Safety at Work?

For most teams, improving psychological safety will require a thorough rethink of how you conduct meetings and communicate with your people. A performance and engagement platform like Frankli can help you make make swift progress on this but it's important to spend a bit of time getting to grips with the key contributors first. In her 2014 Ted Talk, Professor Amy Edmondson outlines three things leaders can do to create a psychologically safe workplace, which provides a good starting point;

1. Frame the work as learning problem, not an execution problem
2. Acknowledge your own fallibility
3. Model curiosity and ask lots of questions( 4).

You'll also find some practical, actionable tips for building trust on your teams on our blog.

Frankli helps teams create a climate of psychological safety through intuitive feedback channels, strategic goal-setting and 1:1 meeting tools. Learn more.

1. Amy Edmondson, Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. 2. Sehoon Kim, Heesu Lee, Timothy Paul Connerton, How Psychological Safety Affects Team Performance: Mediating Role of Efficacy and Learning Behavior. 3. McKinsey, Psychological safety and the critical role of leadership development. 4. Amy Edmondson at TEDxHGSE, Building a psychologically safe workplace.

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