Team management

12 October 2021

5 min.

Psychological safety: an essential factor in successful teams

Why is it that, given the same skills, some teams perform superbly while others seem to be constantly floundering?

While some elements that foster team performance may seem more tangible to us, such as having clear objectives, for example, or knowing that we can count on the assistance of our colleagues in case of need, other aspects may seem more elusive. Among the latter, we find a factor whose influence on team performance has been demonstrated by scientific studies (that’s right!): psychological safety.

What is psychological safety?

If we had to summarize psychological safety in a few words, we could go like this: it’s the feeling that we can be ourselves, without fear of judgment or ridicule.

In the workplace, psychological safety allows team members to express themselves more freely, to express their ideas knowing that their right to make mistakes will be respected, and thus to be more creative and resilient, since this healthy risk-taking leads to innovation.

Indeed, successful and mature teams are those where ideas can be discussed in a healthy and open manner, as members demonstrate trust and respect for one another.

Isn’t that what we want for our workplace?

How does psychological safety manifest itself?

As you can probably guess, psychological safety in the workplace is not something that can be achieved in the blink of an eye. However, when it is present, employees experience greater psychological wellbeing and special attention is paid to preventing psychological health problems.

Did you know that there are signs that can indicate that psychological safety is indeed present (or not!) in your team? Let’s take a moment to explore them.

A fair say

When team members feel safe, it becomes more natural for them to express their ideas without fear of judgment from their colleagues. In concrete terms, this can mean:

  • Giving each person an equal say in team meetings (and making sure that no one infringes on anyone else’s).
  • Take the time to listen to the opinions and ideas of all colleagues, without excluding anyone.
  • Demonstrate good listening skills when others express their ideas and opinions.
  • Work collaboratively to find a solution when conflict arises
  • Listen to different perspectives, understanding that they are all equally valid.

And when others speak, we are excellent listeners, even if we don’t agree with what they say!

Sensitivity to others

It is important not only to understand but also to remember that our colleagues all come to the workplace with their own baggage, their own set of concerns (which may or may not be work-related), and their own personal life experiences.

By being open and kind to your colleagues, you create an empathetic work environment where each person feels supported. And this right to authenticity can take us a long way: this sensitivity to others allows us to better resolve potential tensions (because we are better able to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes).

In return, team members are willing to support their colleagues, to help them build resilience in turn, even when they are going through difficult times.

More active participation in the life of the organization

It’s a proven fact: when psychological safety is prioritized, employee engagement in the workplace is increased. Isn’t that good news?

More psychological safety leads to better team spirit and higher morale, which encourages everyone to participate more actively in the life of the organization, which in turn tends to strengthen morale and team spirit… A virtuous circle!

What if this psychological safety is missing?

Increased stress in the face of unpredictability, ambiguous working conditions, tension: all of these are negative repercussions when the sense of security in the team is lacking. Under the circumstances, it is likely that employees will:

  • Feel demoralized and powerless, which often leads to disengagement.
  • Be more generally defensive and defensive, which undermines collaboration between team members and between different teams in the organization.
  • Have a much harder time solving complex problems, as a sense of threat impairs the ability to reason and think creatively.

Of course, no one wants their team to be faced with such issues. The good news? Psychological safety can be cultivated!

Where can you start?

It is usually by having an accurate picture of the situation — the real one, based on facts and not just on what you imagine — that you can then have a clearer idea of the courses of action available to you.

With this in mind, why not take the time to draw up a precise portrait of the behaviours present in your team, individually and collectively, which could help or hinder the feeling of psychological safety? (Psssst, the Toolbox‘s guide How to increase psychological safety within a team includes a super practical self-assessment to do this!)

Is it time to boost wellbeing, resilience, and performance in your team? No matter the size of your team or the specific issues you wish to prioritize, we will have a solution tailored to your needs!

We’re waiting for you!