Updated: Jan 26
Who loses when employees don’t feel safe asking questions, admitting mistakes, offering candid feedback, or pointing out a problem? Everyone. How do you know if your team experiences psychological safety?
Every day, in workplaces around the world, people measure the risks and rewards of speaking up. Like most of us, they are concerned about their image – how others perceive and, in turn, accept them. And, like most of us, they often choose the path of least resistance – staying quiet rather than risking appearing weak, incompetent, stupid, or disruptive.
Who loses when employees don’t feel safe asking questions, admitting mistakes, offering candid feedback, or pointing out a problem? Everyone.
When psychological safety – “the belief that neither the formal nor informal consequences of taking interpersonal risk, like asking for help or admitting a failure, will be punitive”¹ is missing from the workplace, innovation, resilience, and engagement suffers.
Think about how the lack of psychological safety can impact these areas of your business.
Managing change: Many brands experienced restructuring and reorganization last year. When teams are taken apart and reformed, how is protecting one’s image a roadblock to transferring crucial knowledge of previous successes and failures?
Remote working: As working remotely has become the new normal for many, our ability to “read the room” to gauge the willingness of others to accept critical feedback and disagreement has diminished. When Zoom is the only platform for interaction and collaboration, how do leaders encourage debate, healthy conflict, and accountability?
Creativity and Innovation: When budgets are tight, and every nickel counts, how can leaders build teams that embrace experimentation and failure as part of the creative process?
Diversity and Inclusion: When the anxiousness and fear around discussions of creating a more fair, equitable, and aware workplace are already high, how do leaders encourage the free exchange of ideas and questions?
How do you know if your team experiences psychological safety? Think about how they would react to these statements:
It is safe to take a risk on this team.
It is difficult to ask team members for help.
People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
Members of this team hold each other accountable.
Team members can bring up problems and tough issues.
In the New York City subways, signs everywhere read, “If You See Something, Say Something,” encouraging riders to speak up when they observe something that could be a problem. The same invitation is needed in our teams to create the psychological safety that underlies engagement, innovation, and the highest level of achievement.
¹ Edmondson, Amy C. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2019.