8 Ways to Foster Psychological Safety With Your Team

Learn how to create a positive team environment where everyone feels safe to share ideas, offer feedback, and take risks.

Article by:
Kiren Velu Pillai

Psychological safety is the degree to which people feel safe disclosing negative thoughts, ideas, and emotions without fear of being negatively judged. When psychologically safe, employees can feel comfortable expressing ideas, offering feedback, and taking risks. They feel a sense of trust, empowerment, and belonging to both the team and organisation.


Psychological safety in the workplace or psychological first-aid has been used to describe a team's emotional climate in which members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions. However, the term is often misinterpreted as being only about interpersonal relations.

In reality, psychological safety is the foundation for creating a safe collaboration between employees. Without this foundation, creating a safe and productive environment makes it extremely difficult to share ideas and create successful outcomes.

Research has shown that psychological safety in the workplace and safety within teams go hand-in-hand. To have a successful team, you must preach and practice psychological safety. The benefits of psychological safety in a team are significant and often underestimated, which include:

• Improved team performance and problem-solving capabilities

• Lower attrition rates and employees who are more adaptable to change

• Better employee engagement and well-being

• Greater collaboration and knowledge sharing

• Stronger workplace diversity and inclusion

However, it is important to note that psychological safety does not mean everyone in a team has to be liked or have a good personality. It is an emotional climate, not a personality trait. This means that when someone expresses concern or speaks up, they do so because of the team's emotional climate.

How do leaders identify the level of psychological safety within their teams?

A recent global survey by the World Economic Forum found that the vast majority (86%) of employees feel people at their organisation are not heard fairly or equally, and nearly half (47%) say that underrepresented voices remain undervalued by employers.

A reflection of this survey results exposes the harsh trust that many leaders have a low level of psychological safety with their team, whereby employees are unwilling to express their thoughts and opinions as they are less likely to feel that they are being judged, ultimately impacting creativity in terms of lesser idea generated.

A Harvard Business professor, Amy Edmondson, discovered that high levels of psychological safety and accountability lead to high team performance. There are four zones of team performance, which can be used to measure the current standing relationship with your team.

Psychological safety and accountability levels

1) Achievement Zone: This occurs when a team leader creates stretch goals and challenges direct reports to improve and has high levels of trust in them. A leader in this zone believes that direct reports are trustworthy and encourages direct reports to improve. The work is exciting, enjoyable, and rewarding. Direct reports feel a sense of accomplishment and pride.

2) Anxiety Zone: This occurs when a team leader creates stretch goals and challenges direct reports to improve and has low levels of trust in them. A leader in this zone may believe that people are not trustworthy and therefore do not trust them. Employees are told to improve, and they often feel pressured to produce results. The work environment is anxiety-filled because expectations of perfection result in low job satisfaction and high turnover.

3) Abatement Zone: A team leader creates stretch goals and challenges direct reports to improve and has high trust in them. A leader in this zone encourages direct reports to improve and helps them to trust each other. The work environment is supportive because there are high levels of trust and respect between team members. Employees work in an environment where they can ask for help when needed, and the team knows that direct reports are there to support them. The work is fulfilling and satisfying.

4) Apathy Zone: This occurs when a team leader has low levels of trust in direct reports and encourages direct reports to improve. The leader in this zone is not supportive. Work is done detach, and the team member feels little sense of accomplishment. There is little incentive to try and improve the work or the team. Amy Edmondson concluded that if you have the right combination of high psychological safety and high levels of accountability, you can have high performance.

The 8 key components every leader should do to create a culture of psychological safety

We've talked about the importance of creating a safe environment for people to share ideas, ask questions and take risks within teams, but how do we ensure that our teams are truly collaborative and productive?

Research in psychology suggests that the first step towards achieving psychological safety is to acknowledge that the very nature of the way we think makes it challenging to talk to one another. We need to accept that being vulnerable will never be easy. It takes bravery and the willingness to challenge the status quo.

Here are 8 key components that every leader should do to create a culture of psychological safety.

1. Set the tone early

Start with an assumption that people will be vulnerable and speak up even if they don't feel ready. This attitude of openness sets the stage for collaboration. It says we want to learn from each other, and we don't want to hold anyone back. This mindset is especially important in groups that lack a strong sense of community.

2. Make the rules clear

Make sure that everyone knows the ground rules. This helps people to know what's acceptable and what isn't. It also ensures that no one feels uncomfortable about speaking up. It allows people to ask questions, even if they're unsure where to start. It also permits team members to disagree. When we're unclear on what's acceptable and unacceptable, it can be difficult to ask for help or admit that we don't know something.

3. Embrace mistakes

Celebrate mistakes, whether or not they're our own. Making mistakes is part of being human and growing, and when we recognise this, we can help foster a collaborative environment. When teams embrace mistakes, they can learn from them and grow instead of being discouraged.

4. Respect and value the opinions of others

Value and respect the ideas of others. They can listen to suggestions and make changes when necessary. Everyone is treated with dignity and can contribute their expertise. This is critical when working on projects with diverse perspectives.

5. Take responsibility

Ensure your teams take ownership of their work. They are responsible for making sure that it meets the goals and deadlines. In fact, they work together to make sure that their work is done right. They also take responsibility for their mistakes and failures.

6. Recognise when others are struggling

Teams that create a culture of psychological safety make sure that people have access to help when they're struggling. It's okay to ask for help, even when you're the only one who needs it. If someone is struggling, help and support them to reach their potential and feel good about themselves.

7. Create shared meaning

Teams that create a culture of psychological safety understand that it is more than just about results. It's about how things are done and the relationships built along the way. They are conscious of the impact of their actions, both internally and externally. In fact, they're intentional about creating a culture that makes them a positive force for good.

8. Make it safe to talk about difficult topics

It can be especially hard to talk about things that make us feel insecure, incompetent, or vulnerable. Yet it's critical to bring up important issues to the team if they're not being addressed. It can be helpful to ask a trusted teammate to join you or set a time limit on the discussion.


In conclusion, having a high psychologically safety in the workplaces have a multitude of benefits for employees. They are less likely to experience anxiety and depression at work and have higher morale. Psychologically safe workplaces also increase productivity because employees are not focusing on their problems, but rather on the tasks at hand.

In a nutshell, Psychological Safety in the workplace means that employees are free of fear, stress, and anxiety, where employees feel safe enough to speak up, be open about mistakes, and fail or succeed in a group. It's a powerful motivational tool and an essential element of healthy collaboration.

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