Keys to Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Some teams are more open and creative than others, and they help organizations thrive. In these teams, people share ideas freely, collaborate easily, and support each other’s successes and struggles.

Do you have a team or an organization like this? The recipe for a magical team is made with a few main ingredients, and one of the most important is a feeling of belonging and psychological safety.  I’ve rounded up a few ideas about how to create that kind of environment, below. But first, a reminder of what these two terms mean:

Psychological safety is “the belief that a team is safe to take interpersonal risks without negative consequences for their career (Kahn, 1990)”. (Definition from CQ Net blog post).

A sense of belonging helps provide psychological safety, letting employees feel that they can be who they really are without fear of being judged or treated negatively as a result. 

How important are these two traits to a team? 

Again, from the CQNet post: “A recent study by Google into their HR practices and team performance, demonstrated the importance of psychological safety (Delizonna, 2017). Google’s study revealed that the major component that differentiated high-performing teams from others was psychological safety. Google discovered that these high performing teams demonstrated two distinct behaviors. First, members took turns when communicating with each other. There was equality in the distribution of conversational turn-taking. It appeared that as long as everyone had the opportunity to speak, the team did well. The second component of these effective teams was that they were astute in social sensitivity through recognizing others’ feelings. These teams were able to recognize when a team member felt ostracized or was upset. Together, these two behaviors constitute psychological safety.”

The blog posts outlines a few of the steps for creating psychological safety in the workplace, including the following three:

  • Start small—encourage team members to take small risks, for example, “by challenging one another or contributing to a new idea.” 
  • Lead by example: Management can foster a feeling of safety by “asking for upward feedback, acknowledging mistakes, seeking different opinions, and being approachable.” They can also provide the message that solutions to problems require everyone’s input.
  • Encourage active listening and ask employees to share opinions. 

To foster a sense of belonging, it helps to know what provides employees with that feeling. I love how Gregory Lewis, a Content Marketing Manager for LinkedIn, tackles this subject in his blog post, “Why Creating a Sense of Belonging Is a Gateway to Diversity and Inclusion”.

Lewis highlights results of LinkedIn survey of over 6,000 global professionals found that most employees agreed that the following things make them feel like they belong:

  • Being recognized for my accomplishments (59%)
  • Having opportunities to express my opinions freely (51%)
  • Feeling that my contributions in team meetings are valued (50%)

Lewis quotes from a Harvard Business Review article that recommends these six ways to instill a culture of belonging:

  • Introducing someone as a whole person, beyond their roles and responsibilities
  • Asking people how they feel—and genuinely listening
  • Soliciting input from all in meetings—and not speaking over them
  • Delegating tasks in a way that demonstrates trust
  • Paying attention during meetings and avoiding distractions
  • Sharing stories and encouraging others to share their own

I encourage leaders to look at both of the posts I’ve cited, which offer more in-depth information and further places to research these important topics. And I welcome your questions and ideas in the comments about how to foster psychological safety and belonging in your workplace. 


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