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Why your Team cannot Thrive without Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is a term that we often hear today in the workplace and among leadership teams. But, do we all really understand what it means and how it impacts performance at work?

Psychological safety refers to an individual (or teams) feeling comfortable taking certain risks – in this case, in the workplace. Basically, trusting that nothing you do or say (within reason) will be used against you. It is knowing that even if you take interpersonal risks, you will not be punished for it. Let me explain a bit more – risks come in different forms. An example of taking a risk at work can be “working a new idea and showing it to the team” or “trying a new way to approach a business challenge at work” or “presenting your concerns to the senior management” and so on.

Article by Bessern: Teams cannot Thrive without Psychological Safety

The feeling of safety in the workplace directly leads to productivity and creativity of employees. From neuroscience research, we know that when our brains feel threatened (aka afraid of consequences of risk taking), we cannot be as creative. We will question ourselves, fear will take over, and ideas will die down. If we feel that our opinions won’t matter or we will be punished or talked down upon when we speak up – then we will go back to being quiet and keeping our best selves to ourselves. You can see how this can be a challenge for an organization? As an organization, you can potentially end up with great minds around the table, except that you have killed their ability to speak up.

In an organization, it is your role as a leader (or leader to be) to help people take risks but there is also some conditions. We don’t want people to take risks and fail completely in a way that could completely derail one’s career or business. We want to create an environment where people are pushed out of their comfort zones and feel safe to try things but without any major harm.

Here are a few tips to help you be a leader that creates a psychologically safe environment for your team:

Awareness – take a moment and reflect if there was a time in the past that might have shut down an idea of someone or punished someone for something they did at work? What could you have done differently? Remember that reflection is starting point to bring awareness; although we might not do these actions intentionally, we have to take a moment and reflect to ensure we catch ourselves before the next interaction.

Human Centric – show your team that it is okay to make mistakes and do not punish people for trying new things. Show compassion when a team member makes a mistake, and it will show others that it is okay to be human and to try things. Mistakes happen. Just think of the mistakes you have done, we have all been there. Don’t be so result driven that you drive your team away from safety into fear operating mode. Remember, the brain does not respond well to this.

Practice what you preach – show vulnerability. Share with your team when you make a mistake and how you handled it. Allow team members to share their failures of the month (for example) during team calls – make it okay to fail, make it okay to share failure and get people engaged on different solutions.

The age of the Human Centric organization has already started: Purpose, Autonomy and the ability to Master what we do - are today the key drivers to make people thrive and be motivated to do their best. Psychological safety is an ongoing process to convert this motivation into creativity and high performance in organizations.


Elena Agaragimova

Managing Partner @ Bessern


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