How to build and nurture psychological safety in the workplace

How does a workplace with psychological safety look like? According to Google, it’s a place where high-powered teams work in. In this video, I explore what it means to work in a workplace where teams feel a healthy level of psychological safety and what you can do to build and nurture one. 

In 2015, Google released the results of their research called Project Aristotle, which aimed to find out what it takes for teams to succeed. After two years of study, they found that one of five dynamics that leads to success is psychological safety. It also happens to be the most important dynamic. What psychological safety means is that team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.   

What does workplace with psychological safety look like? Let’s take a look. 

A workplace with psychological safety is a place where all team members are encouraged and empowered to experiment and find ways to improve processes and protocols. It is a place where all team members are expected to fail at some point. And it is also a place where all team members are held accountable for their mistakes. This means acknowledging and owning up to the mistake, learning from mistake, and finding ways to minimise the occurrence of the mistake so that no one from team commits the mistake again.  

It is a place where all team members are encouraged and empowered to voice out what they think and how they feel without fear of retribution from anyone else in the team. It is a place where all team members openly communicate. It is a place where honesty is encouraged and judgement is not. It is a place where all team members enjoy trust and respect.  

So if you can imagine working in such an office, a psychologically safety workplace sounds like a really great place to work in. And just like culture, nurturing psychological safety takes intention and work.  

Where do we start? Google and Amy Edmondson came out with a checklist to help team members foster psychological safety.  

When you have the intention of cultivating a psychologically safe environment to work in …  

  • Don’t interrupt teammates during conversations. 
  • Demonstrate that you are listening by summarising what people said after they have said it. 
  • Admit what you do not know. 
  • Make sure that every team member has spoken at least once during any meeting. 
  • Encourage people who are upset to express their frustrations, and encourage teammates to respond in nonjudgmental ways. 
  • Call out intergroup conflicts and resolve them through open discussion. 

What we can infer from the checklist is that people should be allowed to speak up and that all team members must learn to listen. The checklist also provides encouragement for learning.  

Edmonson also offers changing your mindset about making mistakes and holding people accountable for their mistakes. 

First, when you find a team member has made a mistake, learn to frame it as a learning problem and not an execution problem. Perhaps the mistake was a result of incomplete information or a misunderstanding of instruction. Or maybe it’s a problem with your current processes. Together, you can learn from this mistake and come up with a solution to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Furthermore, the solution often comes from the person who created the problem in the first place. So use this mistake as an opportunity to learn more and make things better for the team.  

Second, acknowledge that you do not know everything. It also helps to say it out loud to your team. When you do this, your team members will respect you more and they will be more open to acknowledging their own lack of knowledge. This encourages team members to ask questions and avoid making false assumptions.  

Third, instead of making judgement, be curious. Nobody likes to be criticised. For most people, as soon as they feel that they are being criticised or admonished for a mistake they made or for failing on a task, they shut off. It doesn’t help the situation at all because we cannot solve issues or problems we do not fully understand.  

The best way to approach the problem is to focus on facts and suspend judgment until you have all the information you need. That means approaching it with curiosity and being open to different explanations. The focus during these discussions should be on solving problems and working towards ensuring that it doesn’t happen again. 

It makes a lot of business sense to build and nurture a workplace with psychological safety to work in. Team members feel heard, respected, and empowered. In turn, they become productive, develop problem solving mindsets, and are innovation-orientated. Nurturing psychological safety takes work, and it requires leaders to become honest, open, and encouraging.  



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