For years, leaders have searched high and low for a secret ingredient to unlock the potential in their teams. That magical ‘thing’ that will result in high performing teams who work seamlessly together and achieve organisational objectives on time, without a hitch.

We’ve been led to believe that if we hire the right people and place them in the right positions, then we’re all set. High performing teams are all about the people within them, right? Well, not exactly.

Research conducted by Google1 has found that the right people, whilst still important, don’t necessarily impact team performance as much as an inclusive and safe working environment does. The study, which included interviews of over 200 employees, found that psychological safety was the most important dynamic impacting the effectiveness of teams within the organisation.


What is psychological safety?

Most of us have been in a situation where we have hesitated to ask a question or voice an opinion out of fear for how we would be perceived by our peers. Cast your memory back to the last time you were working on a project. Could you confidently speak up in a meeting to clarify the goal of the project or did you opt to continue in silence so that you did not seem out of the loop?

Teams with higher psychological safety are unlikely to experience this fear of interpersonal risk-taking because they foster a dynamic where members feel safe to speak up without any negative repercussions.


Why does psychological safety matter?

With psychological safety, we know that diverse teams produce higher quality ideas and more innovative solutions to problems. Teams that feel psychologically safe are more likely to admit when mistakes are made, partner with each other to overcome obstacles, take on new responsibilities and question the status quo.

We also know that teams with higher psychological safety have 40% less burnout, 74% less stress at work and 76% higher engagement in their teams2.


How can I build psychological safety in my team?

Psychological safety is an extension of organisational culture. To build psychologically safe teams, leaders must make psychological safety an explicit priority and model inclusive leadership practices at all times. There are four key areas where leaders can focus their attention to assist with this:

  1. Inclusion and Diversity: when team members feel included, they are more likely to speak up, contribute and add value, leading to more open conversations within the team.
  2. Open Conversations: a team that has open and candid conversations is able to tackle difficult problems in a more effective manner, leading to more willingness to help one another.
  3. Willingness to help: team members who are willing to help one another and show appreciation for their peers are more likely to feel safe to ask for help and offer support in return.
  4. Attitude to risk and failure – team members who show support for their peers when they make mistakes are more likely to admit their own shortcomings and team members are more likely to work together on a solution. This is where innovation starts to happen.

Like any change, building a psychologically safe team does not happen overnight. However, transformation comes in the form of small steps and incremental change will yield incremental wins.


Are you ready to take the next step?

If you’re interested in learning more about psychological safety and how to build a psychologically safe team, you can join us at our upcoming Psychological Safety: The Gateway to Performance and Wellbeing workshop on October 18th. You can find out more about the session here.




Fearless Organisations; Zak 2017 – The Neuroscience of Trust


Author: Bianca Rus, Emotous   |   Published: Wednesday, 21st September 2022