Five Signs That Your Organisation is Psychologically Safe

In the business world, there is more and more talk about psychological safety and its importance in creating conditions where individuals and teams can excel in their areas of expertise. So, what is psychological safety and how would I know if it is present in my organisation?

We define psychological safety as the ability of every individual to create an environment around them where others can share their ideas, share their criticisms, and even make mistakes free of ridicule and persecution.

Essentially everyone should feel safe to share their thoughts and make mistakes without being shamed. When employees feel that their colleagues will not reject them for being themselves and saying what they think and there is mutual respect for each other’s competencies, everyone is able to engage in constructive conflict or confrontation and feel safe to experiment and take risks. This is the ideal environment to foster great ideas, collaboration, and cooperation.

Psychological safety can only flourish in the absence of psychological aggression so what are some of the behaviours and approaches that will allow it to grow and thrive in an organisation:

#1 Everyone contributes

One of the biggest tells that psychological safety is present within any team is when every member of that team is happy to contribute to a discussion with each other. The topic of the discussion will not influence this e.g., it won’t matter whether the team has come together to plan out their next quarterly priorities or to figure out why they missed their production targets, everyone will feel safe in the presence of their colleagues to table their ideas and observations in an effort to come up with the plan or find a solution to the problem.


#2 Nobody is left to struggle

In psychologically safe teams, nobody is left behind. Team members know what makes each other tick, they know when their colleagues are having an ‘off’ day and they feel safe enough to approach them and ask them if they are ok and will readily offer their support. This is easy for each team member to do because there is implicit permission to ask someone if they need help but equally important there is also implicit permission to accept that help if it is needed.


#3 Mistakes are learning opportunities

Going back to our definition of psychological safety “…make mistakes free of ridicule and persecution” This allows all team members to accept that sometimes things go wrong, mistakes are made and that is ok. Mistakes are learning opportunities and as long as there is a willingness to understand how the mistake happened and how to avoid it in the future, then every team member benefits from someone’s mistake. When this approach is taken it is unlikely that mistakes will remain hidden to come back and bite us in the future.

#4 Problems are not left to fester

Working with most sized organisations, one approach seems to be more common than not; if an interpersonal issue arises, it is often left to sort itself out. In teams where there is psychological safety, this is not the case. Where there is tension between 2 or more people or teams, the tension is recognised, called out and then conversations are instigated to resolve the cause of the tension. Psychologically safe teams understand how stress (excessive) can be unhelpful to collaboration and cooperation and they will prioritise the resolution of that tension so that the impacted parties can come back together and perform at their best.

#5 Everyone is held accountable

In psychologically safe teams, everyone knows where the buck stops with them, they know what success looks like in a day/week/month and they actively hold each other accountable for achieving the outcomes that indicate success. These teams can do that because each member feels safe to have those (often) challenging conversations and also has been given implicit authority to challenge and offer support if it looks like those success outcomes are going to be missed.

How does your organisation shape up to these 5 indicators? They are not the only indicators that psychological safety is present but if they all are, you are well and truly on the path to having a psychologically safe organisation.