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Psychological Safety and the Connection to Great Teamwork

By Melissa Brunner

What is psychological safety? Let me start off by saying what it is NOT. It’s not about being nice, a personality factor, another word for trust or lowering performance standards. According to researcher Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up…. a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves”. If leaders and managers want to tap into individual and collective team talents, they must foster a psychologically safe culture where staff feel free to share ideas, disseminate information and disclose mistakes. Imagine all of things that could be achieved if this was the norm!

Psychological safety is needed for three reasons: Questioning, Communicating and Analyzing. Teams need to be able to safely question the status quo in order to surface new approaches and alternatives. They need to feel free communicating the threatening risks or failure if the team continues on a current course. Lastly, they need be able to openly analyze the reasons why they failed so they can learn from mistakes.

Think about a past or current position and assess psychological safety:

Were mistakes often held against you or teammates?

Could you and/or teammates bring up problems and tough issues?

Were you or others rejected for being different?

Was it safe to take a risk?

Was it difficult to ask another member of the team for help?

Did teammates undermine one another’s efforts?

Were your or others’ unique skills and talents valued and utilized?

If you discover that psychological safety doesn’t currently exist on your team or there is room for improvement, what can you do to help influence the movement towards developing it? It starts with you. Leaders play a critical role in cultivating and sustaining psychological safety. We can model the behaviors for others who will likely follow suite with time.

Ways of creating psychological safety:

Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem. Acknowledge there is a lot of uncertainty and interdependence ahead and that we need everyone’s best ideas, instincts and thinking. This creates the rationale for speaking up.

Acknowledge your own mistakes. And earnestly look for ways to improve and learn. This creates more safety to speak up.

Model curiosity. Ask a lot of learner questions. Seek to understand. This creates a necessity for people to speak up.

Here are five other practices that can create psychological safety:

Watch for behaviors that discourage people to speak up. Don’t engage in it. Professionally intervene on behalf of the person speaking up.

Approach and invite people to speak up. Don’t let any single person dominate but rather, draw others out.

Build relationships to build trust. Care about others by showing personal interest.

Hold retros. Create opportunities for After Action Reviews and lessons learned.

Celebrate good work, in addition to wins and results. Celebrate the effort and excellent process even if the results weren’t great.

So, you may be wondering, what are the benefits of working to create psychological safety on your team and within your organization?

Here are 12:

If you are interested in creating psychological safety and reaping these benefits in your business or organization, contact me to discuss options for tailored facilitation and training specific to your needs.

Warm regards,


Founder | Trainer & Consultant

Inner Circle, LLC



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