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Psychological Safety: The Key to a Successful Team

Psychological Safety: The Key to a Successful Team

Building psychological safety has become a trendy topic for businesses, especially after research at Google found that psychological safety is foundational for a good team. Despite the new buzz, researchers in business and psychology had defined the term as early as the 1960s, and interest in the academic community grew with Amy Edmondson’s research published in 1999. But after all of this time, why has psychological safety become so important to businesses now? In the knowledge economy, businesses are facing new challenges that were not relevant in the past, and they are turning to teams to innovate and solve problems. Psychological safety is a precondition for effective teamwork, so with increased reliance on teams, understanding psychological safety has grown in importance.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety in a team is “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking” (Edmondson, 1999, p. 354). It goes beyond trust. It is knowing that you can be yourself and pitch ideas that may be a little crazy, or disagree with the rest of the group and not worry about being ignored or ridiculed. If team members don’t feel like it is safe for them to speak up and suggest a better idea or point out a mistake, then what is the point in having a team? Organizations use teams to incorporate multiple perspectives to make better decisions, but if no one is willing to disagree, then the decisions are actually being made by an individual.

Why do we care?

While having an environment in which you feel safe taking some risks may seem nice, why should team leaders or businesses take the time to encourage psychological safety? Because it is related to many factors that lead to success. Here are just a few of the positive outcomes:

  • Higher team task performance
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Higher organizational commitment
  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Higher creativity
  • Higher team efficiency

What can we do about it?

Tell people about it! It really comes down to whether everyone in the organization is actively trying to create an open and safe environment for their coworkers. The biggest predictors of psychological safety in the workplace are relationships with leaders and support from peers. Leaders are important because they set an example for the appropriate way to behave within the organization. If a leader is unapproachable, distant, or manipulative, then team members won’t feel like their workplace is a safe place to take interpersonal risks.


What we’ve learned…

Research at Tilt365 has shown that a leader who demonstrates a specific set of 12 character strengths will create a safe environment, which is conducive to innovation. That environment sets the groundwork for others to openly and supportively engage with one another. Organizations can use training programs to develop character strengths in leaders so that they can relate more positively to their teams and create an atmosphere of psychological safety.


Learn more about how to develop your character strengths at tilt365.com