Psychological safety

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Psychological safety is being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career (Kahn 1990, p. 708).[1] It can be defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.[2] In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. It is also the most studied enabling condition in group dynamics and team learning research.


Psychological safety has been an important discussion area in the field of psychology, behavioral management, leadership, teams, and healthcare. Results from a number of empirical studies conducted in various regions and countries show that psychological safety plays an important role in workplace effectiveness (Edmondson and Lei, 2014).[3] It has been consistently playing an important role by facilitating ideas and activities to a shared enterprise. It also enables teams and organizations to learn and perform and in recent years, it has become a more significant organizational phenomenon due to the increased necessity of learning and innovation.

History of Psychological Safety[edit]

The term "psychological safety" is believed to have been first employed and explored by organisational researchers Schein and Bennis in the 1960s,[4] defining it as a group phenomenon that reduces interpersonal risk: i.e. psychological safety reduces “a person’s anxiety about being basically accepted and worthwhile”; recognising the importance of psychological safety in relation to uncertainty and change.

Point 8 of W. E. Deming’s 14 Points For Management, written in 1982, of “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company” [5] highlights a similar growing realisation, in contrast to previous Taylorist management approaches, that the creation of environments where it is interpersonally safe to raise concerns is of crucial importance to realising high quality business outcomes.

Explicit interest in psychological safety was renewed by Kahn in the 1990’s,[6] through qualitative studies which showed that psychological safety enables people to “employ or express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally”. This was in parallel with emerging progressive management paradigms at the time such as safety culture and the Toyota Production System (TPS) that introduced a physical representation of psychological safety, the Andon Cord, which explicitly provides employees with the empowerment to raise issues or concerns.[7]

Psychological safety in a social unit[edit]

Psychological safety is a group-level phenomenon.[3] Research on team effectiveness emphasises input-process-output (IPO) models, and some studies see psychological safety as an input that promotes team performance through team learning as a mediator (process).

A significant antecedent of psychological safety is trust (input) which plays an important role in knowledge sharing as well as a mediating (process) role partially (Zhang et al., 2010).[8] A number of studies show that psychological safety is a mediator of relationships between antecedent (similar to 'input variables' in the input-process-output model) including organizational context, team characteristics and team leadership, and outcomes (similar to 'output variables' in IPO model) of innovation, performance, learning, and improvement in or by a team. Although psychological safety has a significant effect as a mediator in explaining team outcomes, it also plays a role as a moderator. Here, psychological safety as a mediator acts as an input in case of teamwork as well as process or emergent state. Due to the boundary condition, it may not help teams to learn when particular conditions such as absence of interdependence are supporting teamwork.

When team members are motivated at work and want to share an idea for improving performance, they frequently do not speak up because they fear that they will be harshly judged.[9] When psychological safety is present, team members think less about the potential negative consequences of expressing a new or different idea than they would otherwise.[2] As a result, they speak up more when they feel psychologically safe and are motivated to improve their team or company.[10][11][12]

Psychological safety is often confused with other concepts such as trust and psychological mindfulness. The primary differences between psychological safety and trust are that psychological safety focuses on a belief about a group norm, but trust focuses on a belief that one person has about another. Also, psychological safety is defined by how group members think they are viewed by others in the group, but trust is defined by how one views another.[13]

Mindfulness is also different from psychological safety in that mindfulness is about being aware of one's surroundings but psychological safety is focused on being respected in a group. Moreover, the most studied result of psychological safety, team learning, is defined as a group adjusting to its surrounding through outwardly sharing observations about their environment. However, mindfulness is an individual becoming internally enlightened about his/her environment.


Psychological safety benefits organizations and teams in many different ways. The following are the most widely empirically supported consequences of a team being psychologically safe:[14]

  1. Improves likelihood that an attempted process innovation will be successful[15]
  2. Increases amount members learn from mistakes[16]
  3. Boosts employee engagement[17][18]
  4. Improves team innovation[19]

Leaders as well as some aspects of the team can increase team members' psychological safety. Two aspects of leadership have been shown to be particularly instrumental in creating a psychologically safe team. They are leaders using:

  1. Participatory management[2][20]
  2. Inclusive management[18][21]

There are also two aspects of a team that help improve its psychological safety. They are:

  1. A clear team structure where members understand their role on the team[22]
  2. Strong relationships between cohesive team members[23][24]


  1. ^ Kahn, William A. (1990-12-01). "Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work". Academy of Management Journal. 33 (4): 692–724. doi:10.2307/256287. ISSN 0001-4273. JSTOR 256287.
  2. ^ a b c Edmondson, Amy (1 June 1999). "Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams" (PDF). Administrative Science Quarterly. 44 (2): 350–383. doi:10.2307/2666999. JSTOR 2666999.
  3. ^ a b Edmondson, A.; Lei, Z. (2014). "Psychological Safety: The History, Renaissance, and Future of an Interpersonal Construct". Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior. 1: 23–43. doi:10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091305.
  4. ^ Knowles, Malcolm S. (January 1967). "PERSONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE THROUGH GROUP METH ODS : THE LABORATORY APPROACH. By Edgar H. Schein and Warren G. Bennis. New York: John Wiley & Son, 1965. 376 pages. $8.25". Adult Education. 17 (2): 126–128. doi:10.1177/074171366701700211. ISSN 0001-8481.
  5. ^ Dr W Edwards Deming, 1982 & 1986, Out of the crisis: quality, productivity and competitive position , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  6. ^ Kahn, William A. (December 1990). "Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work". Academy of Management Journal. 33 (4): 692–724. doi:10.5465/256287. ISSN 0001-4273.
  7. ^ Katz, Harry C.; Babson, Steve (July 1996). "Lean Work: Empowerment and Exploitation in the Global Auto Industry". Industrial and Labor Relations Review. 49 (4): 764. doi:10.2307/2524532. ISSN 0019-7939.
  8. ^ Zhang; et al. (2010). "Exploring the role of psychological safety in promoting the intention to continue sharing knowledge in virtual communities". International Journal of Information Management. 30 (5): 425–436. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2010.02.003.
  9. ^ Detert, J. R.; Edmondson, A. C. (1 June 2011). "Implicit Voice Theories: Taken-for-Granted Rules of Self-Censorship at Work". Academy of Management Journal. 54 (3): 461–488. doi:10.5465/AMJ.2011.61967925.
  10. ^ Detert, J. R.; Trevino, L. K. (6 November 2008). "Speaking Up to Higher-Ups: How Supervisors and Skip-Level Leaders Influence Employee Voice". Organization Science. 21 (1): 249–270. doi:10.1287/orsc.1080.0405.
  11. ^ Schein, Edgar H. (1993). "How can organizations learn faster? : the challenge of entering the green room" (PDF). Sloan Management Review. 34 (2): 85–93.
  12. ^ Schein, Edgar H.; Bennis, Warren G. (1965). Personal and organizational change through group methods: the laboratory approach. New York: Wiley. ISBN 978-0471758501.
  13. ^ Edmondson, A.C. (2003). "Managing the Risk of Learning: Psychological Safety in Work Teams". In West, Michael A.; Tjosvold, Dean; Smith, Ken G. (eds.). International Handbook of Organizational Teamwork and Cooperative Working. New York: Wiley. pp. 255–275. CiteSeerX doi:10.1002/9780470696712.ch13. ISBN 9780470696712.
  14. ^ Newman, Alexander; Donohue, Ross; Eva, Nathan (September 2017). "Psychological safety: A systematic review of the literature". Human Resource Management Review. 27 (3): 521–535. doi:10.1016/j.hrmr.2017.01.001. ISSN 1053-4822.
  15. ^ Baer, Markus; Frese, Michael (1 February 2003). "Innovation is not enough: climates for initiative and psychological safety, process innovations, and firm performance". Journal of Organizational Behavior. 24 (1): 45–68. doi:10.1002/job.179.
  16. ^ Edmondson, A. C. (1 March 1996). "Learning from Mistakes is Easier Said Than Done: Group and Organizational Influences on the Detection and Correction of Human Error". The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 32 (1): 5–28. doi:10.1177/0021886396321001.
  17. ^ Kark, Ronit; Carmeli, Abraham (1 August 2009). "Alive and creating: the mediating role of vitality and aliveness in the relationship between psychological safety and creative work involvement". Journal of Organizational Behavior. 30 (6): 785–804. doi:10.1002/job.571.
  18. ^ a b Nembhard, Ingrid M.; Edmondson, Amy C. (1 November 2006). "Making it safe: the effects of leader inclusiveness and professional status on psychological safety and improvement efforts in health care teams". Journal of Organizational Behavior. 27 (7): 941–966. doi:10.1002/job.413.
  19. ^ West, Michael A.; Anderson, Neil R. (1 January 1996). "Innovation in top management teams". Journal of Applied Psychology. 81 (6): 680–693. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.81.6.680.
  20. ^ Burris, E. R.; Rodgers, M. S.; Mannix, E. A.; Hendron, M. G.; Oldroyd, J. B. (6 July 2009). "Playing Favorites: The Influence of Leaders' Inner Circle on Group Processes and Performance". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 35 (9): 1244–1257. doi:10.1177/0146167209338747.
  21. ^ Edmondson, Amy C.; Bohmer, Richard M.; Pisano, Gary P. (1 December 2001). "Disrupted Routines: Team Learning and New Technology Implementation in Hospitals". Administrative Science Quarterly. 46 (4): 685. doi:10.2307/3094828. JSTOR 3094828.
  22. ^ Bunderson, J. S.; Boumgarden, P. (4 December 2009). "Structure and Learning in Self-Managed Teams: Why "Bureaucratic" Teams Can Be Better Learners". Organization Science. 21 (3): 609–624. doi:10.1287/orsc.1090.0483.
  23. ^ Carmeli, Abraham; Gittell, Jody Hoffer (1 August 2009). "High-quality relationships, psychological safety, and learning from failures in work organizations". Journal of Organizational Behavior. 30 (6): 709–729. doi:10.1002/job.565.
  24. ^ Schulte, M.; Cohen, N. A.; Klein, K. J. (22 October 2010). "The Coevolution of Network Ties and Perceptions of Team Psychological Safety". Organization Science. 23 (2): 564–581. doi:10.1287/orsc.1100.0582.