Ask these 7 questions to boost psychological safety at work.


2020 has pushed the limits of psychological safety in every possible way. There are plenty of things demanding leaders take a more active role in creating safe spaces for their teams, from wildfires swallowing businesses and communities whole; to a pandemic that plunged us into an economic crisis, turning homes into both offices and schools overnight; and a civil rights movement paving the way for long-overdue change in society and the workplace.

The most complicated journeys often do well to start with 2 questions:  "What's working?" and "How can we do more of that?" Questions lead to insight and opportunities to innovate and grow. They are also the foundation of resilience.

In a groundbreaking 1999 study, Harvard researcher Dr. Amy Edmondson, used a set of questions to measure something she called team psychological safety — “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking”. Leaders who lean into this know that it not only creates healthier, more resilient teams but has a direct impact on the bottom line.

Dr. Anthony Hood, an associate professor of management, studies team dynamics in the Collat School of Business, and his own 2015 study on psychological safety, published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, backed this up:

“Researchers are finding that psychological safety may be the No. 1 aspect of successful teams, driving creativity and innovation”.

In Google’s quest to understand what makes a great manager, part of a multi-year exploration called Project Aristotle, they studied the behaviors of their most successful teams. What contributed most wasn’t intelligence or creativity, but how psychologically safe they felt.

Matt Windsor, Senior Writer at University of Alabama at Birmingham, did a great job of not only unpacking the importance of these observations in his article—Psychological safety is the secret to workplace success—but offers several practical ways to cultivate the kind of workplace culture where that safety thrives. A great place to start?


Ask your team to consider these 7 questions:

  1. If you make a mistake on your team, is it held against you?
  2. Are you able to bring up problems and tough issues?
  3. Do people on the team sometimes reject others for being different?
  4. Is it safe to take a risk?
  5. Is it difficult to ask other team members for help?
  6. Do people on the team deliberately act to undermine your efforts?
  7. Are your unique skills and talents valued and utilized?


Why is it important to ask?

Dr. Hood suggests that psychological safety is usually set from the top down. "To build psychological safety, you have to be willing to be vulnerable first, to show your employees that it is OK."

The answers to these questions “make the difference between waking up every Monday morning excited to go to work or sick to your stomach that you have to spend yet another week working for and with those people,” Hood said. These answers also determine whether you are willing to take a risk to suggest a new way of doing things or a better process to get the job done in your office.

Diverse employees also experience marginalization, an area where there is much work to be done and one of the most pressing calls-to-action when it comes to creating psychological safety in the workplace.


Want the blueprint for sustainable transformation?

Click through to tap into the terrific ideas and resources that Matt Windsor shares in the complete article. It includes several checklists to help build psychological safety into your own workplace and is a powerful launchpad for growing your small business!

Dr. Amy Edmondson, the researcher who did the initial 1999 study—now Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business School—also wrote the book on transforming the workplace through scenario-based explanations offering a clear path forward to constant learning and healthy innovation.  Worth adding to your reading list, and available as an immediate, digital book for those who are anxious to get started:

The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth


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Topics: stress, innovation, relationship building, risk assessment, risk management, inclusiveness, leadership development, mental health, courage, emotional equity, resilience, respect, transparency, change management, crisis management, COVID-19 resources, crisis leadership, employee happiness, workplace wellness, diversity and inclusion, vulnerability, inclusive leadership

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