February 28, 2021

Why Psychological Safety is Important for Leadership

Suppose you are a recent university graduate who has been hired at XYZ company. As your work begins, you notice that the data sorting system could be improved.

“It is far more common for people’s contributions at work to be thwarted by interpersonal fear than to feel able to be direct and candid. In contrast, when people are able to be themselves, they can do their best work and make contributions to the team in a timely way.” - Amy Edmonson

Suppose you are a recent university graduate who has been hired at XYZ company. As your work begins, you notice that the data sorting system could be improved. You assess how speaking up about this problem could make you look like an outsider or intrusive and negative. So, to avoid making that impression on your peers and manager, you stay silent and let the moment pass.

You have just robbed yourself and your co-workers of a moment of learning.

If you had felt more comfortable speaking up, the sorting system would have been improved, and efficiency would have been increased. This is just one example of low physiological safety in the workplace.

Amy Edmonson, a professor at Harvard Business School, first identified the concept of psychological safety in her 1999 essay Psychological Behavior and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Since then, she has observed how psychological safety can create a trusting work environment where teams perform better.

Edmonson found that when managing teams, psychological safety is not a synonym for extroversion or being nice. Instead, it is about setting the stage for openness through honest feedback, openly admitting mistakes, and learning from others inside and outside your network. However, these are all inter-personal risks that many people-new hires and executives alike-are wary of taking.

But why is it essential for leaders to facilitate psychological safety when managing teams?

When managing a team, psychological safety promotes efficiency, connection, engagement, and learning moments by allowing groups to openly discuss mistakes and introduce ideas without the risk of being punished or humiliated.

People Playbook wants to help everyone adapt to the new way of working, and we understand that virtual team management and collaboration can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be. Our workshops are designed around answering the critical question: How can we make remote work even better? As you may have guessed, the best way to create better teams is to promote psychological safety, and at People Playbook, we do so by: