Fostering Psychological Safety in the Workplace: A Roadmap for Success

August 30, 2023

In the fast-paced world of leadership and management, the concept of psychological safety has emerged as a game-changer for both individuals and organizations. It transcends the mere acknowledgment of failures; instead, it creates a space where individuals are cherished as human beings and encouraged to share openly.

Recently, Barbra Gago, Founder & CEO at Pando, Mark Frein, Chief Workplace & Strategy Officer at Oyster, and Steve Peralta, Chief Wellbeing Officer at Unmind discussed the meaning of psychological safety, the impact and challenges with remote work and some tactical ways to leverage this concept to drive employee performance.

As Steve Peralta, Chief Wellbeing Officer at Unmind aptly notes, "Psychological safety is a reflection of the culture of the organization and how people treat one another." A culture where there’s a shared belief and value that voicing ideas, asking questions, sharing concerns, and admitting mistakes will not result in humiliation or punishment.

Amy C. Edmonson, a Professor of Leadership at Harvard and the one who discovered the phenomenon and has written extensively about it, defines psychological safety as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking” and it's the cornerstone of leading through crisis. Over the last years we’ve seen a number of major crises that impact employees. These have been things directly impacting them at work like a layoff, reorg, acquisition, etc or externally like pandemic, social injustice, natural disaster, etc.

In times of crisis, management often leans towards an autocratic style of leadership, and this can have cascading effects on the emotional well-being of teams. Nurturing psychological safety, however, empowers individuals to voice their thoughts during crises, fostering resilience, enabling others to learn from their mistakes and increasing overall performance of the group.

In the era of remote work, the challenge of creating psychological safety becomes more pronounced. The digital divide must be bridged, and Mark Frein, Chief Workplace & Strategy Officer at Oyster, emphasizes that it starts with a genuine intent to reach through the screen and create a sense of humanity. This requires an understanding of the intricacies of remote teamwork, including cultural differences and communication dynamics. Building trust and psychological safety in remote teams hinges on acknowledging the diverse perspectives of team members.

To effectively foster psychological safety, it's crucial to approach the challenge systematically. In a remote setup, recognizing the unique challenges and embracing a multi-pronged approach is vital. This involves setting up best practices for communication dynamics, time zone overlaps, and digital mediums. It's important to view team members as interconnected parts of a human ecosystem, creating opportunities for personal connections that break down barriers.

Leaders play a pivotal role in building a culture of psychological safety. Prioritizing well-being, showing empathy, and being actively engaged are key aspects. Leaders should be open about not having all the answers and invite participation through active listening and genuine curiosity. Moreover, leaders should set an example by respecting boundaries and aligning their behaviors with the values of safety.

In conclusion, psychological safety is not just a buzzword but a necessity for organizations to thrive. It goes beyond productivity and efficiency—it's about fostering an environment where individuals can flourish both in terms of well-being and performance. By embracing psychological safety as a foundational need, leaders can pave the way for success. Managers should be trained to navigate this concept effectively, especially in the remote work landscape. Ultimately, psychological safety is a journey that requires intentionality, curiosity, and a commitment to building an inclusive, supportive, and thriving workplace culture.

Check out this playbook we created with best practices from Mark & Steve.

Interested in listening to the full conversation? Watch the replay here.