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Psychological safety

Kirjoittanut: Marcos Homar Heinonen - tiimistä SYNTRE.

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Psychological safety is the feeling that you can share your thoughts and opinions freely without the fear of being pushed to the side or being shamed. A team without psychological safety is not getting anywhere as people don’t share their honest opinions caused of the scariness of the reaction it may cause. In jobs where communication between people is vital psychological safety is one of the most important things to take into consideration. An example of a job where honest communication is very important could be a sea captain’s job and his relationship with the crew. If the crew doesn’t feel comfortable rising concerns, they avoid asking questions even if they are not sure what to do next. This can cause massive problems as having a small mistake can lead to something bigger. Having good psychological safety requires good chemistry between the crew members and the captain of the boat. Asking for help at the right time before anything has happened can save the lives of thousands.



The Chernobyl disaster


The lack of communication and rising concerns caused the Chernobyl disaster. The plant of Chernobyl was not safe, and its design lacked a lot of safety measures. The design played a role in the catastrophe, but the biggest mistake made was the lack of communication between the workers. At those times in the late 80s, rising concerns were not encouraged. There was a fear of authority and a need to please politicians which ended up causing a fear-driven culture. This accident happened majorly due to the lack of psychological safety. There is no clear evidence of what exactly caused the explosion of the RBMK reactor but what is sure is the fact that the reactor could have been operated only in an environment where there was no psychological safety. The Chernobyl disaster is the most catastrophic result of what can the lack of psychological safety inside a working environment cause.



High-performance teams


All high-performing teams have one thing in common and that is psychological safety. To achieve a psychologically safe environment there are certain steps you can take to increase it according to this Harvard Business Review article about psychological safety needed on high-performing teams. The first thing to do is to approach conflict as a collaborator and not as an adversary. As conflicts come up avoid activating a fight-or-fight reaction by asking “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”. Instead, speak Human-to human, anticipate reactions, plan controversies, and adopt a learning mindset. Adopting a learning mindset is when you truly are interested in hearing the other person´s point of view.  Asking for feedback makes you illuminate your own blind spots. Creating a psychologically safe environment makes a higher level of engagement and increased motivation to tackle controversies. It also generates more learning and development opportunities as well as better overall performance.


According to this article, these are the 7 reasons psychological safety is important at work. It enhances employee engagement. When team members feel safe it’s easier for them to engage. Safe teams also engage team members to be fully present at work. Having an inclusive workplace culture makes all team members feel included in the team. Having a workplace like this allows all team members to flourish and feel connected to the team. Creativity and new ideas come out much more easily as team members feel safe expressing their ideas. Employees’ well-being improves as they don’t have additional stressors and they perform at an optimal level when their mental health is on point. Psychological safety creates a working environment that makes people talk to others outside the team about how good it is to work on the team when everybody feels safe. Employees leaving is much more unlikely to happen when they feel respected and safe to express themselves at work. The cost of interviewing, hiring, and training team members is expensive. Avoiding this by having a healthy working environment is also a good thing from a financial stand of view. Lastly, there is a boosted team performance inside teams with psychological safety. Highly engaged employees who don’t want to leave make a team perform. All these things combined make a good team performance that is long-lasting and sustainable.



The difference between leadership and management


Grace Hopper once stated that “you manage things, you lead people”. What she meant by this is that managing consists of all processes, tools, and controls that must exist for people to work efficiently. Leading on the other hand consists of a much larger scope which includes setting direction, making strategic decisions, supporting, and motivating people. And all of this is to reach people’s highest potential.  Even a highly experienced team cannot deliver if they don’t know how or what to deliver. Therefore, it is very important that management is a part of leadership to bring structure and clarity. Even extremely smart and high-powered employees need a psychologically safe environment to contribute the talents they have to offer. A good leader is not a person who likes to punish if mistakes are being made but encourages people to tell if a mistake is about to be made beforehand. Grace Hopper’s statement “You manage things, you lead people” doesn’t apply to football in which the leader of the players is called a manager even though he leads people on the field. The reason for this lies in the structure of a football club. Managers are responsible for player management and in-game managing. The secondary coach and all other workers inside a football club are called coaches. They are more focused on team preparation, practices, and making the players be in the best physical and mental state to win matches. In conclusion, a manager is the one who leads all the players in a game but the ones who keep the players in perfect playing conditions for the manager to use them are coaches. The manager and coaches are close to each other inside the club as they need one another to perform at a high level and win games.







Harvard Business Review, High performing teams need psychlogical safety: here is how to create it, Laura Delizonna, 08.2017.


Psychological safety, What is psychological safety?, 2022


BetterUp, Why psychological safety at work matters and how to crete it, Jacinta Jimenez, 10.12.

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