What’s the Key to Productive Teams? Psychological Safety

Google did what has now become a fairly well-known study on highly productive teams and they found that psychological safety was “far and away the most important dynamic that set successful teams apart.”

Amy Edmondson, Teaming and The Fearless Organization, writes

“Simply put, psychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth. In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake others will not penalize or think less of them for it. They also believe that others will not resent or humiliate them when they ask for help or information. This belief comes about when people both trust and respect each other, and it produces a sense of confidence that the group won’t embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up. Thus psychological safety is a taken-for-granted belief about how others will respond when you ask a question, seek feedback, admit a mistake, or propose a possibly wacky idea…

Psychological safety does not imply a cozy situation in which people are necessarily close friends. Nor does it suggest an absence of pressure or problems.”

What gets in the way of psychological safety? Four things: Judgment, unsolicited advice, interrupting, and breaching confidentiality.

So think about your level of psychological safety—does this help you understand the number you gave to your experience? Can you see how someone’s judgment, unsolicited advice, interrupting, or breach of confidentiality might be impacting your sense of safety? And here’s a challenge question: Do you—as a leader of a team—do any of these things? Are you contributing to someone else’s lack of safety?

What contributes to building psychological safety? Four things. Listening. Staying curious. Being honest. Confidentiality.

How do you build psychological safety in the teams you facilitate, or participate in?

These notes, by the way, were included in Elena’s keynote address at the 2019 Art of Coaching Conference. Check out our posts on social media to learn more about what went on!