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Foster Psychological Safety in Teams

Learn how to foster psychological safety as a leader to inspire greater engagement.

Brief Summary

Psychological safety, first introduced as a construct by Harvard researcher Amy Edmondson, is the belief that you won’t experience negative consequences for speaking up to share ideas, concerns, questions, or for making honest mistakes. It’s “an environment of rewarded vulnerability” in 4 types of behavior: connecting, learning, contributing & challenging. Without rewarded vulnerability, you can’t bring your whole self to work, learn with intellectual bravery, contribute at full capacity, or challenge the status quo.

A study shows that the key to diverse teams working better together and tapping the potential of diversity is to create a psychologically safe environment. Psychological safety is a critical element of higher performance and greater engagement.


Psychological safety is sometimes misconstrued; it isn’t a shield from accountability, it isn’t niceness, coddling, consensus decision making, unearned autonomy, political correctness, or rhetorical reassurance. Three myths companies must overcome about psychological safety:

  • They already have psychological safety (fact: only 43% of employees report a positive climate within their team).
  • It’s senior leadership’s responsibility to create, & maintain psychological safety (fact: it must be embraced by every team leader, at every level).
  • Once created, psychological safety will always exist (fact: it isn’t only rare, but fragile).


McKinsey found that leaders can increase team members’ psychological safety by demonstrating specific leadership styles: "Consultative" & "Supportive" and avoiding others: "Authoritative" & "Challenging". As a leader, follow these behaviors to build psychological safety:

  • Empathy: show care and understand employees’ feelings; value their perspectives and opinions.
  • Engagement: be fully present during meetings, listen actively.
  • Trust: use collaborative and engaging language with a focus on solutions.
  • Collaboration: consult your team, ask for feedback.
  • Empowerment: invite your team to challenge ideas and share their perspectives.
dei progress

Proposed Actions

  • Rise psychological safety to the level of a strategic objective rather than a “nice-to-have.” Connect Psych Safety to ESG in your organization - it maximizes human capital, increases retention and innovation, and reduces risk.
  • Foster connections, including ERGs/affinity groups and buddy/ mentorship programs. Ensure regular 1:1 Check ins, not only with your direct reports, but those across your “pyramid”.
  • Frame meetings as opportunities for information-sharing and differences as a source of value; welcome dissent without judgment through dialogue, not debate. Encourage outside-the-box thinking. Promote a growth mindset and treat mistakes as learning opportunities
  • Expect & exhibit ethical decision making & integrity: prohibit retaliation against “upstanders” & ensure employees  have a safe channel for raising concerns.

Valued Guidance

Implementation Plan

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