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Understanding & Creating Psychological Safety in Teams

Updated: Mar 15

Psychological safety is the most important characteristic of a high-performing team. Simply, put, psychological safety means feeling comfortable enough to disagree, express your feelings, opinions and ideas and take risks in a team without fear of judgement, repercussions or shame. In today's modern business world, the human component of work (ideas, innovation, creativity and emotional intelligence) is extremely important to ensure companies maintain a competitive edge. This article will explore what psychological safety is, how to measure it and, most importantly, what leaders can do to improve it.

Are communication barriers and fear of risk-taking hindering innovation in your large-scale teams? In today's modern corporate world, the concept of psychological safety is an essential base for creating and maintaining high-performing teams. My journey through the realms of organizational behavior has underscored this principle's significance in fostering environments where innovation, collaboration, and resilience flourish. This article sheds light on the essence of psychological safety, its profound impact on team dynamics, and practical strategies for HR departments to improve it. Prioritizing psychological safety is not just beneficial but essential for any organization aiming to thrive in the modern business landscape.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is characterized by the conducive atmosphere for individuals to communicate openly and professionally in their workplace. This encompasses the freedom to transparently talk about concerns, admit mistakes, ask plenty of questions, and engage in dialogue with superiors, managers, and colleagues without any fear.

Moreover, it involves creating a space where people can really be themselves in a professional capacity. This enables individuals to comfortably express their ideas, address concerns, and communicate any important thoughts. Such an environment not only fosters personal well-being but also enhances organizational efficacy and innovation. Who wins as a result? Absolutely everyone.

Psychological Safety in teams

How does psychological safety improve team and organizational experience?

According to a very extensive research conducted by Google, psychological safety was the single greatest factor in determining performance on teams. A further study by Mckinsy found that a shockingly low 26% of leaders create a sense of psychological safety within their teams.  When psychological safety is enhanced, a positive organizational transformation occurs. The facilitation of idea generation and easy exchange of information becomes more pronounced, as individuals feel a newfound willingness to express their thoughts and feelings. This, in turn, serves as a catalyst for optimizing things such as creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and effective conflict management within teams. The interpersonal challenges that often arise within team dynamics are navigated more smoothly, contributing to an overall improvement in emotional intelligence.

This connection between heightened psychological safety and improved performance is deeply ingrained in both research findings and the fundamental principles of human biology. Recognizing and building psychological safety is a necessary and indispensable strategy for fostering a thriving and high-performing organizational culture.

How do you determine if your team's psychological safety is low?

Evaluating the level of psychological safety within your team can involve multiple indicators including the following: 

  1. Turnover Rates: One prominent measurement is the turnover rate among staff members—high turnover can be indicative of a work environment where individuals may not feel secure or engaged. Additionally, the presence of a lot of interpersonal conflicts may signal a lack of trust and open communication.

  2. Effective Communication: A critical aspect to pay attention to is the team's capacity for effective communication. If challenges persist in conveying information seamlessly or if there is a noticeable lack of ideas, creativity, and innovation, it could suggest that psychological safety is not optimally nurtured. A team's ability to pivot and adapt during challenging times is also a revealing factor, as low psychological safety may hinder the collective agility needed in uncertain circumstances.

  3. Trust & Collaboration: Managing the natural volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the work environment requires a high level of trust and collaboration. Assessing how well team members navigate these challenges provides valuable insights into the team's psychological safety.


In contrast: what does a team with strong psychological safety look like?

Psychological Safety

In a psychologically safe team, conflict resolution is swift, and the exchange of ideas flows freely. Members feel comfortable pushing each other to achieve greater heights, as constructive feedback is welcomed and valued. This openness extends to navigating new challenges innovatively, emphasizing the team's adaptability and resilience. Ultimately, a high level of psychological safety serves as the bedrock for a dynamic and thriving team culture, where collective success is built upon a foundation of trust and mutual support.

So how does individual well-being play into psychological safety?

Psychological Safety in the workplace
My Corporate Wellbeing Workshop

Drawing on my extensive experience as a professional trainer and coach, it becomes evident that achieving high psychological safety within a team needs a focus on enhancing what is known as psychological capital—a fundamental cornerstone of individual well-being. Psychological capital refers to a person's positive psychological state that influences their work performance and well-being. This concept comprises four pivotal components, each playing a crucial role in fortifying an individual's psychological foundation: optimism, hope, resilience, and self-efficacy.

Optimism sets the stage for a positive outlook, guiding individuals toward constructive perspectives even in the face of challenges. Hope empowers individuals with a forward-looking mindset, fostering a sense of purpose and determination. Resilience equips them with the ability to bounce back from setbacks, ensuring strong will power. Lastly, belief in one self creates confidence in one's capacity to tackle tasks effectively, contributing to a sense of mastery.

The significance of individual psychological wellbeing becomes important when evaluating how team members contribute to collective efforts. When individuals are psychologically optimized, they possess the capacity to contribute meaningfully. This includes their ability to give and receive criticism, engage in constructive feedback, and partake in the necessary conversations and dialogues that are required to build high performing teams. 

Creating a psychologically safe environment within a team depends on having willing participants who are fully invested in collaborative efforts to achieve superior results. Each team member must feel secure enough to express their thoughts and feelings openly. The key lies in fostering a collective atmosphere where everyone is on board, demonstrating mutual reassurance and understanding.

It's crucial for individuals to feel not only empowered but also safe enough to share their authentic thoughts and emotions. Any shortfall in optimizing individual wellbeing directly impacts the overall collective well-being of the team, thereby diminishing the attainment of optimal psychological safety. In essence, achieving a state of team psychological safety hinges on improving each individual’s well-being which can help move the team towards success. 

What are some practical ways to improve Psychological Safety?  

  1. Focus on Individual Psychological Capital: Implementing tangible strategies to enhance psychological safety within a team begins with a fundamental focus on individual psychological capital. Recognizing the pivotal role of individual well-being, it's imperative to address factors such as heightened stress levels, diminished happiness, and low motivation. The foundation for psychological safety cannot be laid if the groundwork of individual well-being is not optimized.

  1. Incorporate Various Techniques: To foster this optimization, consider incorporating various techniques, such as breathwork, mindful leadership practices, and effective time and performance management. Comprehensive stress management programs can also contribute significantly. However, these initiatives should not be viewed in isolation; rather, they should align with a collective effort to enhance psychological safety, starting from the upper echelons of management. 

  1. Align Initiatives with Collective Effort: Acknowledging that a substantial 35 percent of organizational performance is contingent upon its culture underscores the critical nature of top-down commitment to cultivating psychological safety. Leadership at every level should embody the requisite characteristics for creating a psychologically safe team environment. This commitment can manifest through the consistent implementation of new policies, conducting workshops and seminars to educate team members, and organizing retreats that facilitate collective bonding, idea-sharing, and feedback sessions.

  1. Proactive Data Collection: An invaluable component of this commitment is the proactive collection of data to gauge the current state of psychological safety within the team and the organization. This involves creating avenues for team members to express their authentic feelings through surveys, analyses, and feedback mechanisms. Understanding how the team thinks and feels is important for proper solutions. 

  1. Enlist External Expertise: For a more nuanced perspective, organizations may find it beneficial to enlist the expertise of an external consultant and trainer. This impartial observer can offer insights from an outside perspective, identifying potential blind spots and recommending tailored strategies to fortify psychological safety. In essence, the journey toward improved psychological safety is a multifaceted endeavor that demands a holistic approach, combining individual well-being, leadership commitment, and external perspectives to foster a culture of openness and trust within the team.

How is psychological safety addressed in professional environments? 

There is a 6 step process which allows companies to audit and fix their issues in relation to psychological safety:

Step 1: Data Collection: We deploy an anonymous survey which identifies conflict, and challenges within the organization which affect  performance. 

Step 2: Offsite Retreat: We organize a multiple day, offsite retreat to help improve bonding, mutual understanding and collaboration among team members. 

Step 3: Solution Plan: We establish areas that need to be addressed, common challenges and a systematic way in which both individuals and the team can move forward throughout the year. 

Step 4: Workshops and Training: Throughout the contract, we will deliver multiple, relevant workshops to help empower them to improve personally and professionally within the context of optimizing team psychological safety. 

Step 5: Coaching: There is coaching offered for individuals and small groups to assist with the development of stakeholders and their ability to meet their individual and team goals. 

Step 6: Final Retreat and Reflections: We take a final survey to gather data and opinions, conduct a final retreat to summarize the year, expand on successes, acknowledge areas of improvement and set the goals, priorities and precedents for next year. 

How can we help you?

At Repurpose You, our training philosophy revolves around two fundamental principles. Firstly, we prioritize enhancing the psychological capital of individuals undergoing our training programs, considering the essential components of optimism, hope, resilience, and self-efficacy. Our approach involves the introduction of various strategies, tools, and exercises, ranging from breathwork and somatic therapy, to stress management & conflict resolution techniques and emotional intelligence practices, all aimed at elevating psychological capital.

Furthermore, all our training modules adhere to best practices aimed at bolstering psychological safety. Through meticulously crafted retreats, workshops, and activities, participants are provided with an environment where they feel secure and at ease to openly share their ideas. The culmination of any workshop or retreat yields a dual impact. Individually, participants experience a heightened sense of well-being—feeling more grounded, calm, peaceful, and relaxed—translating into a capacity to contribute meaningfully. 

In essence, our training methodology is a holistic journey that not only nurtures individual growth but also cultivates a team environment where collective well-being and collaborative success become integral components of the organizational culture.

About Me & Repurpose-you

I am an expert in somatic healing, breathwork and performance for leaders, influencers, and high-performers. After rejecting a Ph.D. offer and corporate life in Canada, I embarked on an enlightening journey through Asia, engaging with Zen masters and healers. Overcoming deep personal and professional challenges, I discovered my true calling in spiritual practices and transformational coaching. My experiences in Guatemala, Asia, and Canada have culminated in effective training and coaching systems, helping individuals reconnect with their deepest selves for a more fulfilling, meaningful and purpose-driven life. Book a free exploratory call with me today. 

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