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What contributes to a Psychologically Safe Environment?

What can we do to enhance the feeling of Psychological Safety in teams and in organisations?

During these uncertain times, many leaders and executives are looking for ways to create a sense of unity, stability and cohesion for their teams. Therefore, we are increasingly talking to our clients about the concept of “Psychological Safety”. Psychological Safety describes a person’s ability to be themselves without the fear of negative consequences for their brand, self-image, status or career. A person’s interpretation of their Psychological Safety is a result of the climate rather than culture, in other words it impacts how a person feels about working for the company or within a team.

This research was conducted to help people in business understand how they can work with their teams to understand the climate in which they work and the impact this has on performance, wellbeing and the sense of belonging. Our intention was to understand, articulate and find a simple way of assessing people’s level of Psychological Safety, so that we could identify and build ways of helping teams to change the environment in which they work. We achieved this by researching, designing, and validating the Psychological Safety Questionnaire, which assesses 10 aspects of Psychological Safety.

Psychological Safety has may benefits for an organisation. For example, it creates high performing teams, enhances learning, knowledge-sharing, problem-solving, error-reporting, innovation and well-being, and creates a sense of belonging (Edmondson, 2018). Cognitive Diversity and Resilience are two factors which can impact the level of Psychological Safety within an organisation. Alongside researching the components of Psychological Safety and how it could be measured, our intention for our research was to identify and understand what the antecedents of Psychological Safety are. In other words, how Resilience and Cognitive Diversity contribute to Psychological Safety.

Through using the Psychological Safety Questionnaire, we found that Emotional Resilience positively impacts Psychological Safety. As a result, people who work in teams with resilient leaders or co-workers are more likely to experience a climate of inclusion, purpose, and trust. We also found that there is a relationship between a Strengths based culture and nurturing a Psychologically Safe environment. Therefore, cognitively diverse people (who use their strengths) contribute to the feeling of Psychological Safety. More specifically, individuals who have certain Strengths (e.g., Articulate, Compassionate, Decisive, etc.) are more likely to create environments of Psychological Safety.

Achieving a safe environment and creating the group experience of Psychological Safety is a critical step in a team being high performing. Our research also found that in order to improve the level of Psychological Safety in an organisation, it is important to clarify the purpose of the team, act with urgency, communicate openly and build trust. By doing this, teams are more likely to speak openly, challenge each other, question, debate, and innovate. So, they are more likely to collaborate effectively and successfully.

Exploring the Psychological Safety, Strengths and Resilience of individuals and teams using products can be a useful starting point to increase the overall levels of Psychological Safety. In order to thrive, organisations need to consider their levels of Psychological Safety, and we hope that the Psychological Safety Questionnaire will assist with this.

We hope you find this white paper, our research and the Psychological Safety Questionnaire useful to enable greater strategies for team cohesion, trust and success within your organisation.