Are you looking to improve psychological safety into your teams and organization?
In this article we share:
- Introduction to psychological safety
- How to measure psychological safety within teams
- Clarke's model
The discussion around psychological safety is not new, its importance has been portrayed both in the academic and professional sphere for decades. In recent years though, the notion of employees being psychologically safe at work has been even more relevant as the importance of innovation and learning is increasing. Talking about psychological safety is focusing on the workers’ perceptions of the consequences of taking risks, something crucial to organizational success.
"The belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking." –Edmondson, 1999
The first mention of psychological safety can be found in Schein and Bennis work in the 1960s. They defined it as a group phenomenon that helps reduce interpersonal risks (Schein & Bennis, 1965). In other words, psychologically safe employees have less anxiety about being accepted and worthwhile in the workplace.
In 1990, Kahn’s work put the academic interest back in Psychological Safety with his study about employee engagement. The premise of this study is that employees can bring their true self at work up to different degrees, and that this has implications on their performance. The author studied how certain psychological conditions explain engagement, identifying 3 conditions: meaningfulness, safety and availability. Kahn’s view on psychological safety is personal and individual, defining it as
“the sense of being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status or career” (p.705).
Almost ten years after the publication of Kahn’s work, another scholar, Amy Edmonson, published a paper that would define psychological safety as we know today. Edmondson moved from the individualistic approach introducing the construct of team psychological safety. She defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”
In her book, Edmonson created a survey to assess the degree of psychological safety in teams. She asked team members whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:
→ If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
→ Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
→ People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
→ It is safe to take a risk on this team.
→ It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
→ No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
→ Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized
By questioning all team members, team members can learn both on a personal level (the individual perception of psychological safety of each respondent) and, by combining the answers, on a team level.
There are other tools that can be used to assess psychological safety that are not as “rigid” as a questionnaire. The use of fictional scenarios in workshops is quite popular nowadays, as it allows team members to discuss sensitive topics without sharing personal examples.
This model can provide guidance on where the team is positioned and what would be the next steps to move towards a more psychologically safe environment. In order to do so, managers need to have a good radiography of the actual “state” of the team, for which the tools described before can be of great help.
In order to understand the state of psychological safety in today’s organizations we need to take a look into recent surveys.
We can find a good example in the globally recognized Gallup survey from 2017. The data reveal that just three in 10 U.S. workers strongly agree that at work, their opinions seem to count. The study also found that if the ratio increased from 3 to 6, that would induce a 27% reduction in turnover and 12% increase in productivity.
Interested to get to know more on psychological safety? Download our e-book, plus get a FREE WORKSHOP by our partners at UNIC on how creating a safe space is vital and how to do it, too!