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  • Writer's pictureDr. Cindy Kelly

Psychological Safety: The Secret to High Performing Teams

Updated: May 31

In 2024, psychological safety is emerging as a critical driver of team success. Psychological safety is a shared belief among employees that it's safe to take interpersonal risks, such as expressing opinions, being upfront and admitting mistakes, as well as having the courage to ask for help.

Research consistently demonstrates the profound impact of psychological safety on team outcomes. Google's Project Aristotle, a comprehensive study of team effectiveness, identified psychological safety as the most significant predictor of high performance. Teams with high psychological safety were more likely to exhibit greater creativity, innovation, and overall productivity.

Additionally, in depth analysis of 163 studies revealed a strong positive correlation between psychological safety and team performance across diverse industries and organizations. Furthermore, psychological safety has been linked to improved decision-making, as it encourages the open exchange of ideas and perspectives, leading to more informed choices.

The benefits of psychological safety extend beyond team performance. It also plays a crucial role in employee well-being. Employees who feel psychologically safe are more engaged, motivated, and satisfied with their jobs. They are also less likely to experience burnout and stress, leading to reduced absenteeism and turnover.

Leaders play a pivotal role in psychological safety by modeling vulnerability, actively listening to employees' concerns, and responding to feedback in a constructive manner. However, creating a psychologically safe environment is a shared responsibility. Team members can contribute by cultivating open communication, respecting diverse viewpoints, and offering constructive feedback.

While psychological safety does not imply the absence of conflict, it does require a culture of trust and respect where differing opinions can be expressed without fear of retribution. When team members feel safe to challenge each other's ideas, it sparks healthy debate and ultimately leads to better solutions.

In conclusion, psychological safety is not merely a feel-good concept; it is a critical ingredient for building high-performing teams and encouraging a well workplace culture. By prioritizing psychological safety, organizations can discover the full potential of their employees, leading to enhanced innovation, improved decision-making, and greater well-being.



My own experience:

In my earlier career as a Search Consultant, I worked with a team that was led by the company owner. To keep it anonymous, let's call her Emily. She would hold weekly meetings that were notorious for being tension-filled and silent. Emily was known for being temperamental and unpredictable, therefore the team members were afraid to speak up or show any creativity.

Emily took this as not showing initiative and began to pressure the team to be more productive. She micromanaged and the tension she felt toward the team was obvious. The employees continued to work hard and consistent while Emily was in the office rarely taking breaks or discussing issues. When Emily left the office to run errands, it relieved a great deal of stress and the employees found time to relax, take a break and discuss work among themselves.

Emily had difficulty keeping employees and at the same time had let many go since she felt they were not performing up to par. Emily was not aware what the issue was but assumed that the talent she was hiring were not ambitious and she felt that she had to micromanage to ensure the work was completed. This made the situation even worse for everyone.

Had Emily recognized the situation, she could have learned ways to cultivate the team to perform with confidence and effectiveness. By encouraging the team during the meetings to provide feedback, brainstorm, and share ideas freely, they would have felt psychologically safe. This would replace the silent meetings with lively discussions, innovative solutions and empowered employees that were satisfied, engaged, and confident in their work.

Do you have any stories that you can share?

Please contact me if you would like to discuss or feel free to leave a comment.

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