Psychological Safety: How do we foster it and sustain it?

Some experts say psychological safety is essential in ensuring that teams thrive. But, how do we foster it and sustain it?

Some experts say psychological safety is essential in ensuring that teams thrive. But, how do we foster it and sustain it?  How do we improve organizational performance by enhancing our culture of psychological safety?

The notion of psychological safety was created by Professor Amy C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School. It refers to an organizational culture where people are comfortable being and expressing themselves.  It’s about safety and assurance.  It’s about giving people the freedom to succeed and room to fail.

At Christiana Care Health System, Delaware’s largest health care system, we explore psychological safety in a day-long session on Employee Engagement which is part of a five-day leadership development program entitled The Diamond Experience.  This program is geared to our top leaders.  We explain that psychological safety comes from inclusive leadership where…

  • Leaders are open and transparent with communications.
  • Leaders foster a climate of trust and respect.
  • Leaders establish clear accountability and step out of the way for people to do their jobs, but are close enough for guidance and support.
  • Leaders understand that mistakes are part of growth.
  • Leaders promote “out of the box” thinking without being shamed or judged negatively by others.

Each month we ask Diamond attendees if they believe there is psychological safety in their work area.  Consistently, about half say “yes,” and half say “no.”  While this is not “formal feedback,” it is extremely good information nonetheless.  This type of informal sensing and polling is a good way to keep a pulse on the organization.

Our challenge is to increase psychological safety in our fast-paced, highly demanding work setting where our mission is to serve others. More specifically, beyond this one program, what actions, advice and/or training/coaching programs could help leaders and employees co-create a more psychologically safe work environment?  And then most importantly, what can we do to sustain a psychologically safe culture?


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Participant comments on Psychological Safety: How do we foster it and sustain it?

  1. Any Change management process must leverage against constant, continuous, efficient and fool proof feedback mechanism along with continuous audit.
    The feedback format must be very simple and easily understood, less subjective, more objective oriented but yet shouldn’t limit the expression of the respondent. Further, anonymous feedback always encourages the participants to provide honest inputs. It is also important that the leaders understand the prioritisation of the inputs from the feedback mechanism to be able to come out with holistic long term and short term solutions to the issues that keep cropping up . Leaders must be constantly trained on how they seek and receive feedback making sure the feedback in no situation is taken as a tool to assess the respondents performance at work.

    The feedback mechanism though is a very important tool for inclusive management but is never the right measuring scale for rating the efficacy of the change management practice. The efficiency in the implementation of change should be continuously monitored through audits defining clear and object oriented parameters and must not be graded limiting to feedback alone.

  2. Creating a culture of psychological safety is typically most organizations goals. How that is defined may vary depending on the culture, I think as an organization it’s important that as a new employees are hired the ground rules are explained and there almost should be an “orientation to every employee on how to provide and receive feedback”. In addition, there should be expectations for the leaders so that employees know the expectations. Do you know if there is a level of psychological safety needed to support better engagement and satisfaction for employees?

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