is being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career (Kahn 1990, p. 708).
It can be defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.
In psychologically safe
teams, team members feel accepted and respected. It is also the most studied enabling condition in group dynamics
and team learning
Psychological safety has been an important discussion area in the field of psychology, behavioral management, leadership, teams, and healthcare. Results from a number of empirical studies conducted in various regions and countries show that psychological safety plays an important role in workplace effectiveness (Edmondson and Lei, 2014).
It has been consistently playing an important role by facilitating ideas and activities to a shared enterprise. It also enables teams and organizations to learn and perform and in recent years, it has become a more significant organizational phenomenon due to the increased necessity of learning and innovation.
History of Psychological Safety
The term "psychological safety" is believed to have been first employed and explored by organisational researchers Schein and Bennis in the 1960s,
defining it as a group phenomenon that reduces interpersonal risk: i.e. psychological safety reduces “a person’s anxiety about being basically accepted and worthwhile”; recognising the importance of psychological safety in relation to uncertainty and change.
Point 8 of W. E. Deming’s
14 Points For Management, written in 1982, of “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company” 
highlights a similar growing realisation, in contrast to previous Taylorist
management approaches, that the creation of environments where it is interpersonally safe to raise concerns is of crucial importance to realising high quality business outcomes.
Explicit interest in psychological safety was renewed by Kahn in the 1990’s,
through qualitative studies which showed that psychological safety enables people to “employ or express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally”. This was in parallel with emerging progressive management paradigms at the time such as safety culture
and the Toyota Production System
(TPS) that introduced a physical representation of psychological safety, the Andon Cord
, which explicitly provides employees with the empowerment to raise issues or concerns.
Psychological safety in a social unit
Psychological safety is a group-level phenomenon.
Research on team effectiveness emphasises input-process-output (IPO) models, and some studies see psychological safety as an input that promotes team performance through team learning as a mediator (process).
A significant antecedent of psychological safety is trust (input) which plays an important role in knowledge sharing as well as a mediating (process) role partially (Zhang et al., 2010).
A number of studies show that psychological safety is a mediator of relationships between antecedent (similar to 'input variables' in the input-process-output model) including organizational context, team characteristics and team leadership, and outcomes (similar to 'output variables' in IPO model) of innovation, performance, learning, and improvement in or by a team. Although psychological safety has a significant effect as a mediator in explaining team outcomes, it also plays a role as a moderator. Here, psychological safety as a mediator acts as an input in case of teamwork as well as process or emergent state. Due to the boundary condition, it may not help teams to learn when particular conditions such as absence of interdependence are supporting teamwork.
When team members are motivated at work and want to share an idea for improving performance, they frequently do not speak up because they fear that they will be harshly judged.
When psychological safety is present, team members think less about the potential negative consequences of expressing a new or different idea than they would otherwise.
As a result, they speak up more when they feel psychologically safe and are motivated to improve their team or company.
Psychological safety is often confused with other concepts such as trust
and psychological mindfulness
. The primary differences between psychological safety and trust are that psychological safety focuses on a belief about a group norm, but trust focuses on a belief that one person has about another. Also, psychological safety is defined by how group members think they are viewed by others in the group, but trust is defined by how one views another.
Mindfulness is also different from psychological safety in that mindfulness is about being aware of one's surroundings but psychological safety is focused on being respected in a group. Moreover, the most studied result of psychological safety, team learning, is defined as a group adjusting to its surrounding through outwardly sharing observations about their environment. However, mindfulness is an individual becoming internally enlightened about his/her environment.
Psychological safety benefits organizations and teams in many different ways. The following are the most widely empirically supported consequences of a team being psychologically safe:
- Improves likelihood that an attempted process innovation will be successful
- Increases amount members learn from mistakes
- Boosts employee engagement
- Improves team innovation
as well as some aspects of the team can increase team members' psychological safety. Two aspects of leadership
have been shown to be particularly instrumental in creating a psychologically safe team. They are leaders using:
- Participatory management
- Inclusive management
There are also two aspects of a team that help improve its psychological safety. They are:
- A clear team structure where members understand their role on the team
- Strong relationships between cohesive team members
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Last edited on 20 September 2021, at 13:31
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