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How psychological safety unlocks innovation

22nd November, 2022   •   3 min

What makes teams innovative and high-performing? What would keep your team strong through the currents of disruption and workplace transformation?

The answer is psychological safety, according to Google study Project Aristotle.

Behavioural scientist Amy Edmondson says that “Psychological safety is a belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

A recent survey found that 66% of individuals feel that mistakes are held against them and hold back from voicing their thoughts and ideas. There is the risk of not coming up with creative ideas and solutions to a certain task or challenge.

When your team has psychological safety, individuals feel comfortable challenging the status quo, have mutual respect for one another, and listen to each other’s ideas.

As a leader, you play a critical role in creating a space for diversity of thought, and it is only when you create this safe space will you get some of the best creative ideas from your team.

What does psychological safety look like in your team?

Amy Edmondson shares a checklist to assess how psychologically safe your team are. Read the below statements and rate your team from 1 (very low) to 5 (very high) in each area. The higher your score, the more psychologically safe your team are.

You can also ask individuals in your team to rate how they feel, to see how psychologically safe everyone feels and identify areas of improvement.

Why should we prioritise psychological safety in our team?

  • Leads to more open dialogue, and open dialogue and debate sets the base for innovation. When everyone in your team is encouraged to share their ideas, they feel empowered and comfortable contributing to meetings and discussions. It will also help your team to avoid groupthink and saying yes to the first idea that is shared.
  • Increases engagement as a result of you and the team valuing each other’s work, helping individuals feel respected and secure within the team
  • Reduces turnover, increases retention, satisfaction and team performance, increases information and and facilitates team learning

This leads to healthier, better performing teams, which are more innovative.

How can we actually cultivate psychological safety in our team?

Here are 5 key ways through which you can create psychological safety within your teams and empower innovation:

1. Make your team feel comfortable sharing

What this looks like: Show them that you are listening by asking questions and summarising what they have shared.

What this means for your team: Individuals feel listened to, and know that irrespective of their views being diverse or “unpopular” they will not be judged for it. They also feel more confident taking risks, which is a step towards innovation.

2. Ensure that your team values each other

What this looks like: Individuals in your team encourage others to share, and positively acknowledge each other’s ideas and inputs.

What this means for your team: This helps build trust and embrace collaboration. When faced with challenging situations, your team will be more likely to tackle them in a creative and healthy way.

3. Role model by voicing controversial or unique opinions

What this looks like: Share your honest ideas and opinions with the team, and challenge the status quo WITH them.

What this means for your team: This helps individuals to freely share their unique ideas and perspectives with the team, without fear of negative consequences.

4. Encourage brainstorming

What this looks like: Help and encourage your team to collectively ideate and discuss solutions. You can use digital sharing platforms like Mentimeter to create a safe space to gather ideas. You can encourage idea sharing by asking questions like:

  • “And what would you do differently?”
  • “What would you change?”

What this means for your team: By asking your team these questions, you challenge your team to think about things from a different perspective.

5. Help your team see mistakes as learning opportunities

What this looks like: Share regular feedback with each other, share mistakes you have made with the team. By making this a habit, your team will be less likely to hide mistakes and instead see them as growth areas that everyone can learn from.

What this means for your team: Individuals learn that it is safe to take risks. They are more likely to share mistakes early and learn quickly from each other.

Key takeaway

Create a safe space where your team feel that they can share ideas, mistakes and debate with each other to get to the best creative solutions.

If you would like support or training on how to build trust and psychological safety in your team to spark innovation, please get in touch.