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Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Picture a workplace culture where team members feel encouraged to bring their whole selves to work. A place where people feel accepted and respected. A place where they can humbly admit what they do not know, raise concerns, share ideas and try new methods. A place where mistakes and failures are seen as learning opportunities and not merely opportunities for blame or judgment.

A place with psychological safety.

Amy C. Edmondson is a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School and author of “The Fearless Organization.” She defines psychological safety as “the shared belief among team members that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”

Research by Edmondson, Marcus Baer, Michael Frese, Chi-Cheng Huang, Pin-Chen Jiang and others highlights the positive impact psychological safety has on employee engagement, innovation, performance and business results.

In particular, psychological safety is essential to producing high performance in organizations confronting conditions characterized as volatility, uncertainty, complexity or ambiguity (VUCA). Whereas fear inhibits learning and cooperation, psychological safety encourages employee observations, questions, ideas and concerns with a focus on continuous improvement.

How can you create a fearless organization? You can start by destigmatizing failure.

Failure is a necessary part of uncertainty and innovation. When we aim to prevent failure, we often encourage others to hide their mistakes in an effort to protect themselves. Instead, we should reframe failure and recognize that there are various types of failure (i.e., preventable, complex and intelligent) that each requires a different response.

The tables below define each type of failure and provide recommended responses for each.

Interested in learning more?

Contact Elsey Consulting Group to assess your team or organization’s psychological safety and to provide guidance in setting new healthy, high performance rules of engagement with a focus on continuous growth and development.



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