The Foundation of Team Trust:
Understanding and Cultivating Psychological Safety

January 08 2024
By: Shawn M. Galloway

Psychological safety has emerged as a cornerstone for fostering innovation, collaboration, and employee well-being in the intricate fabric of workplace dynamics. Coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, the concept refers to the shared belief that a team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

Psychological safety is the assurance that one will not face punitive actions or embarassment for speaking up, asking questions, or sharing ideas. It creates an environment where individuals feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks, contributing to open communication, and fostering a culture of trust.

5 pairs of interlocking holding hands

Driving Innovation and Adaptability: Research indicates a strong correlation between psychological safety and team performance. Teams with a high level of psychological safety are more likely to engage in collaborative problem-solving, share diverse perspectives, and experiment with new ideas. This environment encourages learning from mistakes rather than punishing them, ultimately driving innovation and adaptability.

Open and Honest Communication: A psychologically safe environment encourages open and honest communication. Team members feel empowered to express their thoughts, concerns, and ideas without fear of judgment. This open dialogue promotes transparency and enables organizations to address issues proactively, preventing them from escalating into more significant challenges.

Inclusivity and Diversity: Psychological safety is fundamental to creating an inclusive workplace. When individuals feel safe expressing their unique perspectives, organizations benefit from a diverse range of ideas and experiences. This inclusivity contributes to a richer, more dynamic work environment and enhances overall team creativity.

Mitigating Fear of Failure: Fear of failure can stifle creativity and innovation. Psychological safety alleviates this fear by reframing failures as opportunities for learning and improvement rather than grounds for punishment. In an environment where experimentation is encouraged and mistakes are viewed as stepping stones to success, individuals are more likely to take calculated risks, necessary for progress in any area.

Leaders as Humans: Leaders who model vulnerability, admit mistakes, and actively seek input create a culture that encourages others to do the same. By prioritizing open communication, demonstrating a commitment to learning, and appearing just as human as those they are leading, leaders set the tone for a psychologically safe workplace.

Trust Through Consistency: Trust is a fundamental component of psychological safety. Consistency in behavior and decision-making builds trust over time. When team members can predict how others will respond to their input, they feel more secure in taking interpersonal risks, contributing to a positive cycle of trust and safety.

Employee Voice Matters: Psychological safety empowers employees to use their voice. Whether providing feedback, suggesting improvements, or expressing concerns, individuals in psychologically safe environments know that their contributions matter. This empowerment generates a sense of ownership and commitment among team members.

Addressing Microaggressions and Unconscious Bias: A psychologically safe workplace actively addresses microaggressions and unconscious bias. Organizations can implement training programs, raise awareness, and establish clear reporting mechanisms to ensure that all employees feel valued and protected from discriminatory behavior.

Collective Growth Mindset: Cultivating psychological safety is an ongoing process. Organizations should regularly assess the level of psychological safety within teams, seek feedback from employees and make adjustments as needed. This commitment to continuous evaluation and improvement ensures that the workplace remains conducive to open communication, collaboration and continual learning.

In a world where the pace of change is rapid and the need for innovation is constant, psychological safety is emerging as a non-negotiable factor for organizational success. By prioritizing an environment where individuals feel safe to take interpersonal risks, organizations unlock the full potential of their teams. Psychological safety is not just a concept; it is a commitment to creating workplaces where every voice is heard, every idea is valued, and every individual is empowered to contribute to the collective success of the organization.

"A team fused by trust and purpose is much more potent. They can improvise a coordinated response to dynamic, real-time developments." — General Stanley McChrystal

"Great teams have trust at the heart of their success. If you don't trust each other, you'll play safe. Trust makes it possible to aim higher. To leap further and to know someone has your back if you fall." — Adam Grant

"Trust starts with trustworthy leadership. It must be built into the corporate culture." — Barbara Kimmel Brooks

Shawn M. Galloway

Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.

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