Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Psychological safety: What it is and how it helps to retain people

In this article, we explore what psychological safety means and how you can foster it in your team.
a group of people working happily together
Psychological safety has gotten a lot of attention recently and seems to be one of the key factors and ingredient to success in high performing teams.

Case study: Project Aristotle at Google

Google spent two years conducting Project Aristotle, an attempt to discover what sets their most effective teams apart from the pack. After interviewing 180 teams, it was crystal clear that high-performing teams are in fact founded on a balance of human-centred traits. Psychological safety was at the top of the list, every time.

The Google researchers found that individuals in teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.

What is psychological safety?

In simple terms, this is when teams have a high level of trust between each other.

Trusting each other to be innovative and try new ideas without judgement, speak up and challenge the status quo without being judged and given the room to fail without suffering negative consequences.

When there is psychological safety, there is a safe environment where:

  • Teams trust each other
  • People can experiment without judgement
  • Opinions can be voiced without being shamed
  • People can fail without being labelled a failure

The opposite of psychological safety is psychological danger, which creates an environment where teams operate with fear, lack of motivation and distrust and therefore are not performing well.

Psychological safety and Psychological danger and describes the responses to both. Psychological danger lists: a fear of admitting mistakes, blaming others, less likely to share different views and common knowledge effect. Psychological safety lists: Comfort admitting mistakes, learning from failure, everyone openly shares ideas and better innovation and decision making

Source: World Economic Forum

Amy Edmondson, an organizational behavioural scientist of Harvard, introduced the concept of “team psychological safety” and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”

Edmondson wanted to measure a team’s level of psychological safety, so, asked team members how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

  • If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  • Members of this team feel able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  • People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  • It is safe to take a risk in this team.
  • It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  • No one in this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  • Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilised.

Edmondson suggests three simple things individuals can do to foster team psychological safety in her TEDx talk ‘Building a psychologically safe workplace’:

  1. Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
  2. Acknowledge your own fallibility.
  3. Model curiosity and ask lots of questions.
This article is from the free online

Inclusive Management and Leadership Skills

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education