Today we will take you into (recent) history and tell you a bit more about the origins of ‘psychological safety’. 


It is the key ingredient of the five team dynamics for effective teams that Hifluence helps companies with! 


We’ll tell you (1) where it comes from, (2) why it is essential in our companies and in today’s society and (3) how we cultivate it within Hifluence and with our customers! Here we go! 


Amy Edmondson, professor at Harvard Business School, began her research in 1999 


“Psychological safety is not about being ‘nice’. It’s about dead honest feedback, admitting mistakes and wanting to learn from each other”.


according to Amy Edmondson when she first mentioned the concept of psychological safety within professional teams in her paper ‘Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams’ (1999).


In this paper, she investigated the differences between two teams in a hospital and went in search of evidence for the proposition ‘better teams make fewer mistakes’.
The answer was totally opposite. It showed that the best-performing team reported more errors than the least-performing team. This experience became the basis of her paper and not so long ago she published her latest book: The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth.

Three initiatives every leader must take


From several cases she researched (including a very positive case with Pixar), she obtained three interesting and indispensable steps for leaders of an organization. When you ask Edmondson how to create an organization without fear, she says that there are three initiatives that every leader needs to grasp. Only when these three steps are successfully completed and adopted will the rest of the organization and therefore psychological safety, follow.


Creating a framework 


By this she means: create clarity about everything the organization is doing. Tell all employees clearly and transparently what they can expect, about the variables, possible certainties or complexities, … Eliminate uncertainty by talking about it clearly and without leaving any room for doubt or misunderstanding.
If leaders continue to do this systematically, it will become easier for employees to say something themselves.


After all, leaders make it clear that everyone has something to say within the company – and that literally any idea, anyone’s idea, could make a significant difference.  


Inviting commitment 


The next step revolves around proactivity. Your people now know everything and know that their opinions are appreciated. Now you must start actively asking for that opinion. Ask them the right questions and show them that your interest is genuine. Ask them about their ideas about the organization and make it clear that you are willing and able to help where necessary. 


Listen sincerely to their answers: how you respond will determine how psychologically safe they feel.


Reacting productively


Finally, you close with a correct response. You try to get people out of their comfort zone by motivating them to give their opinion. Now you must make their voices heard. 


That voice can be positive and it can also be negative: maybe this is the first time they dare to express their mistakes or doubts. Give them room to do so and react productively. 


Instead of immediately shooting into defense mode, getting angry or looking for solutions, thank them sincerely for their insight.
Only then do you make it clear you are looking for a solution together: what can you do to get back on the right track together?


When you actively and consistently apply this way of interaction as a leader, it won’t be long before the rest will follow. Because, admit it… ‘if the CEO dares to admit a mistake and actively asks for our help, then we can probably do the same’.


Psychological safety is an urgent necessity in our modern economy!


Further research has shown time and again that there is a positive correlation between the performance of your team and the psychological safety that prevails within that team. 


In other words: the more employees feel involved and dare to make mistakes, the better the results.


We can take this even a level higher, and tell you that psychological safety is an absolute must for literal safety at work. After all, Edmondson suggests that by increasing psychological safety, certain accidents (plane crashes, medical errors, financial pits, …) could have been avoided.


This observation was confirmed by Google’s Aristotle Project. This study of hundreds of teams placed psychological safety at the top of the list of the most effective teams.


Psychological safety within Hifluence


When we at Hifluence talk about psychological safety, we refer to the individual feeling as a result of taking a decision or risk. Do you feel psychologically safe within your team? Then you dare to take risks without fear of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative or disturbing. Logical: then you can be sure that no one on the team will embarrass you or punish you for admitting a mistake, asking a question or introducing a new idea. Good to realize is that in a psychologically safe environment everyone brings the same attitude and that is necessary! 

How peace of mind brings psychological safety

Of the five dynamics of effective teams identified by Google researchers, psychological safety is by far the most important. Individuals in teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave the organization, are more likely to take advantage of the different ideas of their teammates, generate more revenue and are often twice as effective.


Many people today talk about ‘the future of work’. They often talk about what tools are needed to prepare for this. Tools are not enough. It is essential to go to the heart of where work takes place: people & teams and from there change the working environment. Psychological safety is not imposed, it is created by and from people.

A company with a psychologically safe environment also attracts people because they can be completely themselves and bring the best of themselves to work. A high degree of trust is created, which ultimately requires less control and direction and more autonomy and creativity.

Through our training courses for leaders, you will learn step by step how to integrate psychological safety into the daily practices of a team. 




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