Understanding and fostering psychological safety is crucial for team performance and innovation. This article dives into Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson's research, underlines the importance of psychological safety, and discusses how to measure and foster it within teams.
We also explore how Insightful's data-driven hybrid collaboration tools offer the benefits of monitoring performance while helping organizations build psychologically safe work environments, contributing to improved team dynamics and outcomes.
Exploring the Concept of Psychological Safety
Coined by Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, psychological safety is a fundamental principle in the realm of effective team dynamics. The term represents a shared belief held by team members that it is safe to take risks, express thoughts and concerns, raise questions, and admit mistakes without the fear of negative repercussions. In essence, as Edmondson puts it, it is the "felt permission for candor".
This principle emerged from Edmondson's research into error making and teamwork in hospitals. Her original hypothesis was that teams with better teamwork made fewer errors. However, her findings suggested otherwise; teams with a reported higher degree of teamwork experienced more errors.
On further investigation, she discovered that these teams were more willing to report their mistakes because they felt safe doing so. This revelation led to follow-up research, reinforcing the crucial role of psychological safety in team dynamics.
The Significance of Psychological Safety
Psychological safety, especially in a team environment, is of paramount importance. It facilitates team members' engagement and motivation and instills in them a sense of value in their contributions.
It prompts better decision-making as people feel at ease expressing their views and concerns. Furthermore, it cultivates a culture of continuous learning and improvement, a pivotal aspect of organizational growth and innovation.
Research underscores the impact of psychological safety on team performance and effectiveness. Google's Project Aristotle is a notable example. This research, which employed over 30 statistical models and hundreds of variables, concluded that the composition of a team mattered less than how the team members worked together. Among all the factors that influenced team effectiveness, psychological safety emerged as the most critical one.
Moreover, the dynamics of psychological safety have been found to interact positively with diversity within teams. Teams with high psychological safety and expertise diversity showed better performance, contributing to more innovative outcomes.
Measuring Psychological Safety in Your Team
For leaders, it's crucial to evaluate the degree of psychological safety within their teams. Amy Edmondson has developed a 7-item questionnaire to assess this perception among team members. The responses to these questions provide leaders with invaluable insights, aiding them in making necessary adjustments to enhance the psychological safety in their teams.
The questionnaire consists of seven items that address different aspects of psychological safety, including:
- If you make a mistake on this team, it is not held against you.
- Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
- People on this team sometimes accept others for being different.
- It is safe to take a risk on this team.
- It isn’t difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
- No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
- Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.
The answers to these questions can provide a leader with a sense of how psychologically safe team members feel. However, Edmondson cautions that the scores are not definitive and what matters is the variance. It's essential to consider the responses in relation to the team's expectations and to be curious about what changes might improve the team's experience.
Fostering Psychological Safety
In addition to this questionnaire, another effective way to measure psychological safety could be through regular team check-ins or one-on-one meetings. These interactions can offer opportunities for team members to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe environment, thereby providing leaders with more qualitative insights into the psychological safety of their teams.
Creating a psychologically safe environment goes beyond good management practices. It requires establishing clear norms and expectations, encouraging open communication, and extending active support to team members.
Leaders need to demonstrate why the voices of employees matter, admit their own fallibility, actively solicit input, and respond in a constructive manner. Additionally, promoting a sense of psychological safety requires constant nurturing and a proactive approach to addressing the evolving needs and challenges of team members.
Dissecting Common Misconceptions about Psychological Safety
It's crucial to clarify that psychological safety isn't about maintaining a perpetually comfortable environment or agreeing with everyone's views. Instead, it's about fostering a culture of respect where people can voice dissenting opinions and propose novel ideas without fear.
It’s about turning conflicts into opportunities for learning and innovation. It is not a license for slack performance; rather, it fosters an environment where high standards can be met because people are empowered to discuss failures and collaborate on improvements.
Moreover, psychological safety doesn't imply that there will be no conflict within a team. On the contrary, differing perspectives and healthy debate are often necessary catalysts for innovation and growth. The key lies in managing these conflicts in a manner that is respectful and constructive, thereby preserving the sense of safety within the team.
The Power of Psychological Safety
To provide a tangible example, let's consider a case study from Pixar, the renowned animation studio. Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, often emphasizes the importance of candid feedback and failure as stepping stones towards success. This approach has allowed Pixar to create a series of highly successful films.
The 'Braintrust' meetings at Pixar, where filmmakers present their work-in-progress to a room full of candid colleagues, embody this concept. The purpose of these meetings is not to pass judgment or dictate changes, but rather to identify problems and propose solutions, fostering a culture of trust and collaboration. As a result, the creative team feels safe sharing unfinished work, inviting constructive criticism, and iterating based on feedback – underpinning the studio's track record of excellence.
Leveraging Insightful's Data-Driven Solutions for Enhancing Psychological Safety
In today's increasingly remote and hybrid working environment, work performance monitoring tools
help identify, measure, and improve team dynamics is invaluable. Insightful's data-driven tools are designed to offer deep insights into these dynamics, thus aiding in the cultivation of psychological safety within teams.
Insightful offers a robust analytics platform that can help organizations understand and measure elements like team engagement, collaboration patterns, and overall team health. These insights can be instrumental in identifying areas where psychological safety might be lacking and formulating strategies to enhance it.
Moreover, Insightful's solutions help in fostering a culture of transparency and open communication, which are critical elements of psychological safety. They make it easier for team members to share their ideas, ask questions, and contribute to the collective learning and growth of the team.