“Psychological safety” characterizes a working environment where all team members have the confidence to be themselves and to express their opinions freely, even when these differ from those of the (presumed) majority. The term became popular through the research of Harvard professor Amy C. Edmondson. She was able to prove that medical teams that transparently report errors perform better. In Google’s research project “Aristotle”, psychological safety emerged as by far the most crucial factor influencing team effectiveness, helping the phenomenon gain further publicity.
As part of the re:Work program, Google has come up with a list of “Manager Actions” to promote psychological safety in teams. The tool includes practical action steps: it shows how managers can demonstrate commitment and understanding, behave inclusively in interpersonal interactions and decision-making processes, and act confidently and decisively without appearing inflexible.
“Psychological safety” allows members of an innovation team to work and learn without discomfort. This is an essential pre-condition for personal growth and outstanding performance. A “psychologically safe” working environment prevents harmful group dynamics such as “groupthink” from arising and thus leads to better decisions and a broader range of ideas. Heterogeneous teams, in particular, can benefit from a leadership style that promotes psychological safety in the group. Teams with a climate of high psychological safety perform better, especially under complex demands such as those presented by innovation processes. Measures such as diversity awareness training, an inclusive agile manifesto, or a team contract may be introduced as a complement to avoid possible negative side effects of an excessive level of psychological safety (e.g., unethical or inappropriate behavior of individual team members).