How Psychological Safety Creates High Performing, Innovative Teams

Psychological Safety

Using Psychological Safety to Create High Performing, Innovative Teams

High performing, innovative teams are an asset to any business. After all, you can’t have a successful business without having the right team behind it!

But how exactly are we supposed to go about enabling our teams to reach that “next level”? There’s a few schools of thought around this, which suggest things like goal setting, ongoing professional development and training, and better employee rewards benefits and rewards. According to a lot of leaders and researchers though (including leading researcher Amy Edmonson), the answer is much more simple: psychological safety!

But what exactly do we mean by this? If you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you will know that safety is a basic human need. Essentially, we all have the right to feel safe – and that goes for at our workplace too!

Psychological safety aims to create a workplace culture of mutual trust and respect. Employees in a psychologically safe workplace feel free to be themselves, speak their mind, express themselves creatively, take risks, and bring their own ideas to the table. They also feel comfortable asking questions, raising concerns, and making mistakes, because they are confident that they will not be embarrassed, humiliated, punished, or socially rejected because of it.

If your workplace is not psychologically safe, your employees are more likely to suffer mentally and emotionally. This can have a big knock-on effect on your business performance, because if your employees aren’t happy, they’re not going able to perform as well – and neither will your business!

By comparison, psychologically safe workplaces:

  • Allow all of their employees to flourish
  • Are in a position to leverage all of their employees’ strengths
  • Have more engaged and satisfied employees
  • Offer employees more responsibility and autonomy
  • Experience lower rates of employee turnover
  • Have better performing teams
  • Inspire creativity, good ideas, and “lightbulb moments”
  • Innovate more quickly
  • Enjoy a more inclusive culture that celebrates diversity
  • Behave more flexibly, and adapt better to change

As you can see, there’s really no reason that your workplace shouldn’t be psychologically safe. And if it’s not, you could be missing out big time, so it’s time to change!

There are a whole range of techniques and strategies that can be used to create a psychologically safe workplace. But before we get into the nitty gritty of how to use psychological safety to create high performing, innovative teams, let’s start by looking at the four steps of psychological safety.

  1. Inclusion safety (i.e. Feeling a sense of connectedness and belonging, and acceptance for being oneself)
  2. Learner safety (i.e. Feeling safe to learn, develop, grow, ask questions, make mistakes, and experiment with different ways of doing things)
  3. Contributor safety (i.e. Feeling safe to contribute to shared goals and objectives)
  4. Challenger safety (i.e. Feeling safe to challenge the status quo, and suggest changes or improvements)

According to Dr Timothy Clark, who suggested these four steps, employees need to pass through all four of these steps before they feel psychologically safe in their workplace. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that your psychological safety strategy covers all four!

Now, let’s jump into some of the specific strategies you might use to achieve this kind of safety for your employees. These include:

  • Leading by example by role modelling positive and psychologically safe behaviours in the workplace
  • Encouraging staff to be curious, experiment, and take risks, and celebrating mistakes and failure as a learning experience
  • Showing active listening skills
  • Promoting open and transparent communication
  • Actively encouraging everyone to speak up and make contributions
  • Promoting collaborative and productive dialogue as a means of resolving conflict
  • Ask for feedback on your own performance, and encourage staff to give it
  • Seeing all staff as humans, rather than just a number
  • Educating all staff on psychologically safe practices, and providing further education to those who are not displaying these
  • Measuring psychological safety (e.g. by sending out employee surveys) to see how you’re doing


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Caroline Kennedy, author of Lead Beyond 2030: The Nine Skills You Need to Intensify Your Leadership Impact, is an accomplished, award-winning CEO and global thought leader on business and leadership. She is a highly sought-after mentor and coach to top global executives. A respected keynote speaker and author, Caroline’s methods are neuroscience-based to achieve rapid development and growth.


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