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Psychological safety - A basic need for a team’s success

In what kind of environment would you feel most comfortable delivering bad news, taking risks, and even failing without fear of backlash? The answer is probably an environment where you feel safe doing all of these things, or what is also called a psychologically safe environment.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety, as defined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, is "a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking." In other words, it is the confidence that team members have to speak up, express their ideas, ask questions, and even make mistakes without fear of retribution or judgment. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to contribute their unique perspectives, collaborate effectively, and ultimately, drive innovation within the organization (Gallo, 2023).

Why is psychological safety important?

According to Maslow's well-known hierarchy, people must have a certain level of basic needs met in order to survive, participate in a community, and achieve self-actualization. Among these basic needs, social scientists now suggest that psychological safety is crucial for individuals to thrive in various areas of life, such as home, school, and work. In addition, according to a McKinsey survey, 89% of employees surveyed said they believe psychological safety is essential in the workplace (McKinsey, 2023).

One of the key benefits of a psychologically safe work environment is open communication. When employees feel safe expressing their thoughts and opinions, it fosters an inclusive and transparent environment where ideas can flow freely and trusting relationships can flourish. Employees will feel accepted and valued within the organization, which not only increases their job satisfaction but can also lead to increased engagement, confidence, and motivation on an individual level.

Psychological safety also creates successful teams. A recent study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership, which spanned over two and a half years and included nearly 300 leaders, found that teams with high levels of psychological safety reported improved performance and fewer interpersonal conflicts (Loignon & Wormington, 2022). Essentially, psychological safety improves collaboration, problem solving, and decision-making within teams by incorporating a broader range of perspectives. This, in turn, fosters creativity and innovation, as team members who feel empowered and safe to take risks are more likely to generate new ideas and solutions (Mogård et al., 2022). It also allows a culture of learning to develop within the organization, as team members feel comfortable admitting mistakes, expressing uncertainty, and being open to feedback.

Finally, psychological safety can promote the mental health and well-being of employees (Ryan, 2015). When employees feel safe and supported in the workplace, it can reduce the stress and anxiety that often occur in situations where individuals fear judgment or repercussions for their actions. This, in turn, can reduce turnover, as mental well-being has been identified as one of the main reasons why employees are absent or leave an organization (Bryan et al., 2021; Deloitte, 2022).

Does your work environment provide psychological safety?

Psychological safety is not always a given or the norm in many organizations; here are some questions to help you assess whether your work environment ensures psychological safety:

• How does your organization respond to mistakes?

• Is it okay to take risks in your organization?

• Are individuals able to speak up about problems and difficult situations?

• Are different opinions or new ideas accepted in your organization?

• Is it difficult to be vulnerable and ask for help from the team?

• How are disagreements handled?

How can you provide a psychologically safe work environment?

At the organizational level, it is crucial to train leaders and managers to promote psychological safety. It is necessary to evaluate the organization for any unnecessary hierarchies, chains of command, or professional barriers that hinder open communication from lower-level employees to top management. Implement approaches to acknowledge and celebrate employees' unique talents and strengths through effective communication strategies that are inclusive across all organizational levels. Continuously reinforce the message that the organization places high value on psychological safety and actively seek feedback from employees on the effectiveness of its implementation.

From a leadership perspective, it is important to model the behaviors you want to see in your employees, such as admitting and showing how you have grown from your mistakes, to set a positive example for others. Encourage open communication, show vulnerability, and be open to feedback to demonstrate that it is safe to speak up.

A leader should also encourage diverse perspectives by actively seeking out input from all team members, regardless of their role or tenure. Create opportunities for individuals to share their ideas and opinions, and make it clear that all voices are valued. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What is your perspective on this?” or “How do you feel about this idea?”

It’s also crucial to foster a culture of empathy by actively listening, trying to understand their perspectives, and asking clarifying questions when necessary. By creating a culture of empathy, you can build trust and strengthen relationships within the team.

Another important aspect is to provide feedback and recognition. Offer regular feedback to your employees, both constructive and positive. Recognize that it's not easy for people to openly share their ideas, especially if they've had their input ignored in the past. That’s why it's important to show appreciation for valuable contributions and offer genuine thanks to your employees.

Lastly, establish clear expectations to create a culture of accountability. Mutual accountability is crucial for fostering a workplace where everyone feels safe. Make sure your team understands your expectations and vice versa, and hold each other accountable while providing support for success. This also helps to develop trust within your team by showing them that you are dependable and that you lead by example.

In conclusion, psychological safety is a critical factor in creating a positive and productive work environment. By promoting trust, open communication, and support within teams, organizations can harness the full potential of their employees and drive innovation and success. Leaders who prioritize psychological safety can build high-performing teams that are resilient, collaborative, and committed to continuous improvement.


Bryan, M. L., Bryce, A. M., & Roberts, J. (2021). The effect of mental and physical health problems on sickness absence. The European Journal of Health Economics, 22(9), 1519–1533.

Deloitte. (2022, April 1). Poor mental health costs UK employers up to £56 billion a year. Deloitte United Kingdom.

Fulop, E. L., Kippist, L., Dadich, A., Hayes, K., Karimi, L., & Symth, A. (2019). What makes a team brilliant? An experiential exploration of positivity within healthcare. Journal of Management & Organization, 25(4), 591–612.

Gallo, A. (2023, February 15). What Is Psychological Safety? Harvard Business Review.

McKinsey. (2023, July 17). What is psychological safety? | McKinsey. McKinsey & Company.

Mogård, E. V., Rørstad, O. B., & Bang, H. (2022). The Relationship between Psychological Safety and Management Team Effectiveness: The Mediating Role of Behavioral Integration. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(1), 406.

Loignon, A., & Wormington, S. (2022, April 22). Psychologically Safe for Some, but Not All? Center for Creative Leadership - Innovation.

Ryan, E. J. (2015). Communicating psychologically safe workplaces in Nova Scotia: the effect of Nova Scotian cultures on the prevention of mental health disability. Royal Roads University (Canada).

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