Psychological Safety: The Key to Fostering an Efficient Team

Want to lead a successful team?

Then make sure your members feel “psychological safety,” a phrase that Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School Professor, defines as the shared belief held by members of a team that it is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

And she's not alone in naming this as a key factor for success.

Our very own Pete Krainik, Founder & CEO of The Future CMO Club, has shared his opinion on valuing your team's well-being above all else, too. And, in 2012, Google dedicated substantial resources to answering the question: How can we make our people happier and more effective?

They looked at over 180 groups of teams worldwide, trying to find the elements of individual success - and how to replicate them in others. After mixing and matching different personality types, skill levels and background experiences, the key takeaway was that team efficiency is not influenced by who is in a team, but by how team members interact with each other and how comfortable they are while doing it.

A strong team is an efficient team

Overall, the most successful teams had a high comfort level and great communication, giving each individual the power to:

  • Speak up, participate and even interrupt a colleague or leader (when it was relevant and moved the conversation forward)
  • Provide input without fear of retaliation if it opposed management or the team leader’s opinions, proposals or tactics
  • Be actively listened to via attentive body language
  • Feel respected, both as an individual and a professional

While the concept seems fairly simple at first, it's definitely a difficult-to-implement ideal. These intrinsic team dynamics can't be quantified by a system of checks and balances. Add in the fact that there is no sure-fire way to make sure employee reviews are 100% truthful, and it can leave managers wondering what the signs of psychological safety are.

The four elements of psychological safety

To foster a safe, productive environment where learning is encouraged and mistakes are celebrated as a part of growth, we need to foster these key elements in our team members:

  1. Dependability: If someone is asked to do something, empower them with the tools, education and accountability to make sure it gets done. No reminders or haggling.
  2. Structure and Clarity: Regardless of your organizational structure, people should know what everyone’s job is and there should be a shared understanding across the team of the unique skills each one can bring to the table. Clarifying the goals and purpose of why the team has been put together also creates a unified effort from the beginning.
  3. Meaning: People work better when there is a greater cause - whether this is the service you are providing to your clients, the impact your company has on the world or the way your brand gives back through social initiatives, passion is driven by purpose.
  4. Impact: Building on meaning, show your team how their work matters and actually creates change. If you put people together to achieve something and their work is not used to achieve that goal, morale and commitment go down, along with efficiency. Instead, show how the final campaign built on each person's input, articulating the value of leveraging brainstorm sessions in order to use quantity to find quality.

Bring it Home:

Start your next team building meeting with a couple of minutes of just getting to know one another. Allow each person to share why they show up, and what drives them each day. Understanding who the person sitting next to you is as a human allows us to be more flexible, understanding and comfortable, leading to a stronger organization.

Not sure where your team currently stands? You can use the psychological safety survey as a gauge and jumping off point. Or, you can use these four elements as a personal checklist. If one is not being met within your team or on an individual level, redirect your efforts.

"You don’t guarantee being the best in your industry with an all-star marketing team, but you have no shot without it," said Pete Krainik, Founder & CEO, The Future CMO Club.