Welcome to the Fundamentals of Psychological Safety Series. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already on your way to having better performance in your team.
Every Thursday we’ll be writing about the cornerstone concepts that go into this intensely relatable and yet slightly nebulous concept. This is in an effort to demystify it and increase overall awareness to make having it an attainable goal for every team.
But what is Psychological Safety and how can we obtain more of it?
Let’s start with definitions. Here are the few we always return to:
The concept first appeared in the academic discourse in the 1960s and has since been studied extensively by many scientists. The most notable of them – Prof. Dr Amy Edmondson of Harvard, who is the world’s foremost authority on Psychological Safety.
Edmonson has dedicated her career to studying the topic and describing her findings in books that are a must-read such as The Fearless Organisation: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth and Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.
Dr. Edmondson is actively involved in the community, she writes and speaks in addition to teaching and is the author of this TED Talk on the concept. She has also written the foreword to the most recent book analysing the connection between Psychological Safety and technology – “People Before Tech: The Importance of Psychological Safety and Teamwork in the Digital Age by Duena Blomstrom.
Most of Edmonson’s examples and studies are based on industries such as healthcare and aviation – the Boeing example of unsafety where employees didn’t feel able to speak up and avoid the 737 tragedies is a well-documented instance showing the effects of lack of Psychological Safety-.
Despite Dr. Edmondson’s valiant efforts, the concept hadn’t captured the business world’s attention until Google published the results of its most extensive study of teams they had performed entitled Project Aristotle.
The study’s goal, which spanned over many years and tens of thousands of employees, was to determine what makes Google teams high performing. Specifically, what helps them be productive and efficient and at the top of their game.
The results revealed that there were a handful of common factors all teams had in common. They demonstrated “dependability”, “structure and clarity”, “impact” and “purpose”. But above all else, the number one factor that made them successful was the presence of high degrees of Psychological Safety. Team members believed they were free to take risks, speak up and be vulnerable in front of each other.
Once Project Aristotle’s results were published, the technology world – in particular the Agile/DevOps communities – were quick to check if it replicates in other enterprises at scale. Once it was clear that it did, many embraced the concept and it has since seen increasing levels of attention.
Who Needs Psychological Safety?
Every industry, every type of team and every work context could see an increase in their level of performance should they begin to consciously better their team dynamic and increase their levels of Psychological Safety.
While the 2020 pandemic has highlighted the need for Psychological Safety, the concept is still in its infancy awareness-wise in the business community at large. For now, the number of companies that are actively working on measuring and increasing the Psychological Safety of their teams as a business, innovation and sustainability imperative remains relatively low.
Companies that do make Psychological Safety a priority have a tremendous competitive advantage in terms of performance, employee engagement and retention. This is especially true in the technology sector, where speed is of the essence.
Next week we will tackle what Psychological Safety is not, so be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates.