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Psychological Safety in Teams: What Does it Look Like?

Creating a Safe and Productive Work Environment

In today's fast-paced and competitive work environment, creating a safe and supportive workplace culture is essential for success. One crucial aspect of a healthy work culture is psychological safety, particularly in teams. Psychological safety refers to a culture of rewarded vulnerability, an environment in which team members feel comfortable expressing their ideas, opinions, and concerns without fear of retribution or negative consequences. Psychological safety is built in four progressive stages, inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, and challenger safety.

What is Psychological Safety in Teams?

Psychological safety in teams is the ability to feel safe and secure when expressing oneself in a group setting. It is the knowledge that your colleagues won't judge or ridicule you for sharing your thoughts and feelings, no matter how unpopular or controversial they may be. In psychologically safe teams, individuals can be vulnerable and express their opinions without fear of being ostracized or punished.

Psychological safety differs from traditional workplace safety, which refers to physical safety measures such as wearing protective gear or avoiding dangerous situations. Psychological safety is focused on creating a safe and supportive work environment for the mind and emotions, rather than just physical safety.

Psychological safety in teams is critical for team members to work collaboratively, innovate, and solve problems. When team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and challenging each other's perspectives, they can generate new and better ideas. Psychological safety fosters a culture of trust and inclusiveness, which leads to higher employee engagement and better team performance.

Google's Project Aristotle: Why Psychological Safety Matters

Google's Project Aristotle, which was launched in 2012, aimed to uncover the secrets of high-performing teams. The study analyzed data from hundreds of teams across the company to identify the factors that distinguished successful teams from their less successful counterparts. One of the most significant findings was that the most successful teams had a high level of psychological safety.

The study found that teams with high levels of psychological safety were more likely to have open and honest communication, a willingness to admit mistakes, and a sense of belonging. These teams also reported higher levels of job satisfaction and employee retention.

The Benefits of Psychological Safety in Teams

The benefits of psychological safety in teams are numerous and far-reaching. Here are some of the key benefits:

Increased Productivity 

Psychological safety leads to more open communication and collaboration, which leads to more efficient and effective teamwork. When team members feel safe to share their ideas, they can work together to achieve common goals.


When team members feel comfortable challenging the status quo and proposing new ideas, they can think more creatively and generate more innovative solutions.

Employee Well-Being 

Psychological safety creates a positive and supportive work environment that enhances employee well-being. When team members feel safe and supported, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated, leading to lower levels of stress and burnout.


Psychological safety fosters a culture of inclusiveness, where all team members feel valued and respected, regardless of their background or experience. Inclusion is what unlocks the power of diversity.

Research has supported the importance of psychological safety in teams. A study conducted by Google found that teams with high psychological safety outperformed other teams on almost every measure, including innovation, decision-making quality, and productivity. Additionally, a meta-analysis of research on psychological safety found that it is positively related to team effectiveness and performance.

The benefits of psychological safety in teams are clear, but how can teams create a psychologically safe environment? The next section will explore the four stages of psychological safety in teams and how they can be implemented to create a supportive and productive work environment.

Strategies for Creating Psychological Safety in Teams

Creating psychological safety in teams is not an easy task. It requires a concerted effort from everyone involved. Here are some strategies that can be used to create psychological safety in teams across its four stages:

Active Listening

Encourage team members to listen actively to each other's ideas and opinions. This means giving each other undivided attention, avoiding distractions, and not interrupting. By actively listening, team members show respect and validation for each other's ideas, creating a sense of safety.

Asking for Dissenting Opinions

Encourage team members to speak up and share their dissenting opinions. This not only shows that their opinions are valued, but it also helps to identify potential problems or flaws in the team's ideas or plans.

Providing Autonomy with Guidance

Provide team members with the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work. At the same time, provide guidance and support to help them succeed. This shows that team members are trusted and valued, creating a sense of safety.

Removing the Fear of Failure

Encourage team members to take risks and not be afraid of failure. This means creating an environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth and learning rather than punishment.

Setting Clear Expectations

Provide clear expectations for team members in terms of roles, responsibilities, and goals. This helps to create a sense of structure and clarity, which can reduce anxiety and uncertainty.

Model and Promote Psychological Safety as a Leader

Leaders play a critical role in creating psychological safety in teams. They need to model vulnerability and encourage team members to do the same. They also need to reward acts of vulnerability and create an environment where it is safe to take risks and speak up.

By implementing these strategies, teams can create a culture of psychological safety where team members feel comfortable taking risks, sharing their ideas, and making mistakes. This can lead to better collaboration, increased innovation, and improved team performance.

Overcoming Barriers to Psychological Safety in Teams

Despite the benefits of psychological safety, it's not always easy to achieve. There are several barriers that can get in the way, such as fear of vulnerability and lack of trust. Here are a few strategies for overcoming these barriers and promoting psychological safety in teams:

Foster a Culture of Rewarded Vulnerability

Leaders should model vulnerability by sharing their own struggles and failures. This sets the tone for the team to do the same, creating an environment of psychological safety where team members feel comfortable being themselves.

Encourage Trust-Building Activities

Activities that promote trust, such as team-building exercises and icebreakers, can help team members feel more connected and build trust with one another.

Address Conflict Quickly and Constructively

Conflict is a natural part of working in a team, but it's important to address it quickly and constructively. Encourage team members to share their concerns and work towards a resolution that benefits everyone.

Provide Feedback and Recognition

Regular feedback and recognition can help team members feel valued and supported, which is important for psychological safety. Make sure feedback is specific, actionable, and delivered in a timely manner.

Address Bias and Discrimination

Bias and discrimination can erode psychological safety, so it's important to address them when they occur. Leaders should be proactive in creating a safe and inclusive environment where all team members feel valued and respected.


Psychological safety in teams is crucial for creating a workplace environment where employees can thrive. By implementing the four stages of psychological safety – inclusion, learner, contributor, and challenger – teams can create an environment where everyone feels safe to express their opinions, share their ideas, and make mistakes without fear of retribution. The benefits of psychological safety in teams are numerous, including increased productivity, innovation, and employee well-being. However, achieving psychological safety in teams requires effort from everyone involved, from team members to leaders. By measuring psychological safety using tools such as LeaderFactor's Culture Diagnostic tool, teams can identify areas for improvement and take action to create a safer, more productive, and more fulfilling work environment for all.

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