Improving communications is often the entry point for my work with teams. During the
early stages of an engagement, I am watching and assessing key communication
indicators. Broadly I’m looking and listening for things like, how the information flows
up, down, and across the organization? How does the Executive Team hand down new
directives? What methods are used for educating and communicating policy and
procedure changes? What is the level of meeting fatigue? What are the results of the
employee engagement surveys? What is the turnover rate?

At the individual and team level I’m looking and listening for how freely people share
their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. How open are they to asking questions that may
challenge the status quo. I’m assessing how open people are to trying something new
or different – to think outside of the box. I’m aware of the level of reactivity, resistance,
chaos, and conflict amongst team members. And I’m gauging the level of stress,
anxiety, and burn-out. I’m noticing how fearful people are of making a mistake or doing
something wrong? Essentially, I’m assessing for is the level of psychological safety.
Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson brought the term psychological
safety to the workplace in a real and practical way. Building upon the earlier work of
psychologists and organizational scholars Edmondson identifies psychological safety as
a working environment where people feel respected for what they contribute, feel safe
to learn and try new things, and not be outcast for making a mistake; a place where
people are genuinely accepted, valued, and included; where people are encouraged to
contribute their thoughts and ideas, encouraged to ask probing questions and give
critical feedback free from punishment or humiliation.

The bottom-line — when people don’t feel psychologically safe, healthy and productive
communication doesn’t happen, and as a result performance suffers and people
Psychological safety can be broken down into four stages that build upon and reinforce
one another:

Inclusion Safety
The foundational stage where coworkers feel accepted and valued as an integral part of
the group. People feel included simply because they are human beings regardless of
race, education, background, gender, or any other trait. This sense of belonging fosters
engagement and collaboration.

Learner Safety
In this stage people feel comfortable enough to participate in the learning process. This
includes asking questions without fear; soliciting feedback from bosses and coworkers;
and taking risks or experimenting which may result in mistakes, allowing people to
develop without fear of consequence or judgment.

Contributor Safety
In a team environment individuals feel safe and comfortable enough to offer their
opinions, ideas, and suggestions. Contributors feel empowered to speak-up and share
their insights and provide meaningful feedback. They feel valued by the team in a
fostering and creative environment where diverse thought abounds.

Challenger Safety
The fourth stage is when team members feel comfortable to ask questions, sometimes
challenging the status quo, thereby promoting innovative approaches to problems. This
level of safety is essential for tackling intractable problems, driving change initiatives,
and initiating systemic improvements. Challenger views can be diverse, and dissenting,
without fear or judgement or retribution.

Fostering psychological safety in the workplace requires more than espoused words
and good intentions. It requires a dedicated effort by leaders to model psychological
safety through their behaviors, creating an environment where employees feel
comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. This in turn sets the tone for the rest of
the organization to follow.  When a culture of psychological safety is implemented,
performance abounds and employee engagement flourishes. Team members
experience a sense of trust, feel valued, and as a result are given license to be more
creative and innovative. Contact me today to discuss your unique work situation and
how we can promote psychological safety among your team members.