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Psychological safety is an essential aspect of a healthy workplace culture. It allows employees to feel safe and comfortable in sharing their opinions, making mistakes, and taking risks without fear of retribution. In this article, we will discuss the importance of psychological safety in the workplace and provide strategies for creating and maintaining it.
Our psychological safety definition is a culture of rewarded vulnerability. It’s the belief that one won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. It’s the foundation of a positive workplace culture where employees feel safe to express their opinions and take risks without fear of negative consequences. But we have a second definition too, because psychological safety can also be defined by its four stages:
According to Timothy R. Clark's model of the four stages of psychological safety, there are four stages of team development: inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, and challenger safety. Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, these stages reflect human’s fundamental needs in social settings.
In the inclusion safety stage, team members feel safe to be themselves and feel included in the team. They feel safe to be their authentic selves. In the learner safety stage, team members feel comfortable asking questions and admitting they don’t know something. They feel safe to learn and grow without constant learner anxiety. In the contributor safety stage, team members feel safe contributing their ideas and taking risks. They can work with accountability and autonomy, with the necessary guidance. Finally, in the challenger safety stage, team members feel safe to challenge the status quo and provide constructive feedback. They can innovate and ideate because they understand that failure is part of the process.
Creating psychological safety in the workplace has many benefits, including increased innovation, risk-taking, and trust. When employees feel safe and supported, they are more likely to share their ideas and take risks, leading to more innovative solutions and better outcomes. Additionally, when there is a culture of psychological safety, employees are more likely to trust their colleagues and leaders, leading to stronger teamwork and better outcomes.
Creating psychological safety in the workplace requires specific strategies and tactics. One way to do this is by listening actively to employees and creating an environment where their ideas are valued. Leaders must also lead by example by admitting their mistakes, taking responsibility for them, and encouraging their employees to do the same. Another way to create psychological safety is by encouraging risk-taking and providing feedback. Employees should be encouraged to take calculated risks and learn from their mistakes, and leaders should provide feedback that is constructive and supportive.
There are common obstacles that organizations and teams face when trying to create psychological safety in their workplace. Keep in mind that every team dynamic is different, so what your team needs may be different from what works for another team in another department, organization, or cultural context. That being said, here are some barriers we see frequently, and some tips to overcome them:
Fear of failure can be a significant barrier to psychological safety in the workplace, as team members may be hesitant to take risks or try new things for fear of making mistakes. Leaders can address this by creating a culture of experimentation and learning, where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth and improvement rather than as failures. Encouraging team members to reflect on what they've learned from failures and share those learnings with others can help to reduce fear and increase psychological safety.
Trust is a crucial component of psychological safety, but it can be difficult to establish in a new team or with team members who have had negative experiences in the past. Leaders can build trust by being transparent and consistent in their communication and actions, modeling vulnerability and openness, and creating opportunities for team members to get to know one another on a personal level. Trust-building exercises and team-building activities can also be effective in improving team dynamics and building trust.
Negative team dynamics, such as conflict or cliques, can undermine psychological safety by creating an environment where some team members feel excluded or targeted. Leaders can address this by promoting open communication and encouraging team members to express their thoughts and concerns in a respectful manner. Creating opportunities for team members to collaborate and work together on shared goals can also help to improve team dynamics and reduce negative behaviors.
Without support from leadership, it can be difficult to create a culture of psychological safety. Leaders can demonstrate their commitment to psychological safety by modeling the behaviors and attitudes that they want to see in their team, providing regular feedback and coaching, and creating a safe space for team members to express their concerns and ideas. Investing in training and development programs for leaders and team members can also help to reinforce the importance of psychological safety and build the skills needed to create it.
Psychological safety is crucial to a healthy workplace culture. It allows employees to feel safe to take risks, express their opinions, and make mistakes without fear of negative consequences. Organizations must prioritize creating psychological safety by using specific strategies and tactics, overcoming common obstacles, and implementing the four stages of psychological safety. By doing so, they can create a culture of trust, innovation, and collaboration.