The principles that allow teams to succeed.

Psychological Safety

The principles that allow teams to succeed.

Psychological Safety

by compasspartnership

Establishing safety and trust to build high-performing teams

Truly high-performing teams have one thing in common: Psychological Safety cultivates a working culture free from fear and ego. It means people can speak up, make mistakes, question things and raise concerns without retribution. This in turn creates a learning organisation. A place where teams are more than the sum of their parts and people go beyond their comfort zones to achieve success together.

Amy Edmondson is the professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School and the most prominent researcher on the topic of Psychological Safety. She defines it as “the shared belief among team members that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” and “a team climate characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves”.

Without this culture of safety, people worry they will seem ignorant, so they will not ask questions; they don’t want to look incompetent, so they won’t admit vulnerability or mistakes; they don’t want to seem intrusive, so they won’t offer ideas; they don’t want to appear negative, so they won’t question the status quo. Yet, what kind of organisation does this create? One where creative ideas and high performance are stifled. When people feel they can be their true selves at work, they bring a different level of commitment and contribution.

The Psychological Safety Index

Psychological Safety is a clear set of ideas about how to create the right circumstances to succeed. It includes through various aspects of culture and structure within an organisation. As we have looked through the various factors which impact on Psychological Safety, it becomes clear that if we want to investigate where organisations need to focus their efforts in terms improving that feeling of psychological safety we need to look in specific areas of behaviour and perception. We have designed our Psychological Safety Index as a tool to do just that, pulling our research and analysis together under the following five principles:

  • Social Climate: The expectations from people of the role of leadership and the organisation’s overriding attitude to people.
  • Climate for Organisational Learning: The nature of culture and practice in the organisation which either facilitates or hinders organisational learning
  • Systems and structures: The degree to which systems and structures support people in their roles and foster positive engagement with work and the work environment.
  • Team Working Climate: The degree to which people work together effectively, support and trust each other in a healthy, sociable environment.
  • Historical Climate: The lived experiences and expectations from the history of the organisation as seen by its people.
Businessman walks tightrope above his colleagues with a safety net

The Importance and Impact of Psychological Safety

When Google published the results of its Project Aristotle, Psychological Safety was highlighted as the most important driver of their team performance. Crucially, it underpins the movement of ideas, action, the discretionary effort and engagement of colleagues in making contributions to organisational progress on many fronts:

  • Absorptive Capacity – The ability to engage with and integrate new knowledge at the human and the level of systems to capture and interpret  knowledge.
  • Social Capital and Networks – The ability to engage with a diverse set of minds and open networks.
  • Human Capital, Sensemaking and Insight – The ability to make sense of dialogues, knowledge in which we engage and our relationship to them.
  • Innovation and Ideation – The ability to work to build new ideas and get them through barriers to achieve impact in the market place or within the business.
  • Expression of the Self – People being alive at work, their interests and values.
  • Positive Working Environments – Encapsulating the impact of leadership. Prosocial systems and behaviours that make people feel supported and free from threat and the weight of the organisation’s history.

The Opposite of Psychological Safety

In organisations where there isn’t a culture of Psychological Safety, communication is stifled and the empathy that is needed for innovation is lacking.

When there isn't a culture of psychological safety

The Psychological Safety Index

The Compass Partnership Psychological Safety Index is the first of its kind. An evidence-based statistical measure of the correlation of a range of statements across the five principles. The assessment is designed to help organisations to develop a better grasp of whether their employees have trust in their organisation. It does this by asking some fundamental questions:

  • Is there trust between people in teams and in the people in positions of leadership?
  • Are people likely to feel supported or prevented from sharing ideas and feelings?
  • Is there a climate of openness where people can speak up, express vulnerability and admit failure?
  • Can they open up problems and difficulties for scrutiny and be allowed to build solutions?
  • Is there trust in the systems that underpin the way the organisation works?

Contact us to discuss how our Psychological Safety Index can help your teams to succeed.

When Google published the results of its Project Aristotle, which focused on the secrets of effective teams, Psychological Safety was highlighted as the most important driver of team performance.