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High-performance team through psychological safety

Kirjoittanut: Thais Santos Araujo - tiimistä SYNTRE.

Esseen tyyppi: Yksilöessee / 2 esseepistettä.

The Fearless Organization
Amy C. Edmondson
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 5 minuuttia.

What is psychological safety for you? Amy Edmondson is a specialist in the subject. She is the author of the book The Fearless Organization and a Leadership and Management professor at the Harvard Business School. Amy says in her most recent book that psychological safety is predominantly defined as an environment where people are comfortable being themselves (Edmondson 2018, 17). With the term well


The reflection on the topic can feel quite far from the ordinary student life at Proakatemia. Although the organization or work life feels far, in every team size or organizational style, psychological safety can be used. It is possible to bring it to our reality and apply the learnings to our teampreneurs. How many times have you faced some wrong behavior or mistake from a teammate, and you did not address the issue straight away? If you can relate, your team has room for improvement in their performance and decrease the number of errors along your journey. Does it sound interesting? We can keep digging into the topic together.


Sharing concerns, questions, mistakes, and half-formed ideas


During the Nordic Business Forum in the Autumn of 2022, Amy defined psychological safety once more in a very efficient way: radical candor. During a Proakatemian paja about the same topic, many of us, including myself, needed to translate or find the definition of candor. Candor means being honest, being sincere. Because of the judgment that comes after sharing an idea or question, people tend to hold back easily from sharing their thoughts. The belief of saying something wrong at the wrong time or somehow challenging the status quo makes team members resistant to addressing an issue out loud or asking a “stupid” question. No one wants to look bad at work. No one wants to be seen as the “stupid question maker.”


Even in Proakatemia, we can face cultural resistance when talking about psychological safety. For example, I’m originally from Brazil, and we should not challenge leaders or older individuals in my culture. The culture of fear reigns in my country. Pointing out an issue or delivering a piece of bad news about the business could be the end of someone’s career in a company. It means that for me, it is hard to say out loud about a failure or to challenge someone’s point of view. Studies of Amy show that we need a culture in which it’s permitted and well-seen to argue with our superior about the best way to go or address real concerns (Edmondson, 2018, 59).


Real examples

If, at this point, you are still wondering if psychological safety is a big deal and if you should take it into practice or not in your team, I can prove it by sharing examples. I can share a couple of bad examples that could be avoided if psychological safety was part of the teams. Volkswagen employees were motivated by getting results by any means and broke the law instead of addressing an explicit issue. The Volkswagen 2015 diesel emissions scandal is an example of trying to succeed at any cost and getting huge fines and reputation drops (Edmondson, 2018, 63). This is an example of what Amy calls stretching the stretch goal. In a fearless organizational culture, this issue would not have happened.


A close of us and an excellent example of lack of psychological safety is our neighbour company and proud brand of Finland, Nokia. Their engineers knew pretty well how Apple and Samsung were advancing technologies-wise. Although, the company was leader in cellphone industry and the culture was “fearful emotional climate”. Due to the fear of delivering bad news, the engineers pretended everything was alright when communicating with executives (Edmondson, 2018, 64).

We know very well the end of this story. Their silence led the company to a 75% stock drop and the sale of big part of the company to Microsoft in 2013.


What to do?


We don’t live in a utopic world where everyone is aware of psychological safety benefits and is willing to create or keep this culture in an organization. So, what should be the first steps to make a change and turn to be a high-preformistic team in any organization? It must start from you. Local level forces are more powerful than top-down forces. It means that independently of your role in a team, you have the chance of making a change towards fearless organization. Proactively asking good questions, watch how you react to feedback or how do you react to bad news. All these small daily actions will change how people trust you and it will affect how your teammate behaves in the long-term as well. In fearless organizational cultures, people feel ethically obligated to raise one’s voices to address concerns, share knowledge and ideas, and offer constructive feedback. Who doesn’t want to accelerate the learning and knowledge sharing among teammates?


After making the change in your local team, the example is mirrored across the team and across the organization. It is an organic cultural change; the trust levels are increased person by person. Remember to make situations discussable and ask questions. Demonstrate trust, show you are trustworthy, and ensure your colleague will have opportunities to show themselves as trustworthy as well (Edmondson, 2022)


In my work, a colleague with whom I don’t share any client project in common once asked how I was doing in a very caring way. He showed curiosity and transparency. This interaction changed the way I behaved with him and with other colleagues and teammates. Sometimes asking good questions, such as how I can help, will allow your partner to open up about what is wrong or could be improved. Treating people this way will give the line of how you want to be treated, and it’s from these interactions that the culture changes organically.




When there is no psychological safety, you know from your direct experience how it feels not to be listened to by others. You have the motivation to do things differently and start a change. Invite engagement around you and respond productively, looking forward to a fearless environment to which you don’t have access yet.


It is important to emphasize that psychological safety actions are not tied to personality types. You don’t need to be outgoing or persuasive to influence others. It is all about leadership stance. My main takeaway is the three listed stances that Amy listed to impact on psychological safety: humility, curiosity, and empathy. There is no need to be arrogant or mean to inspire others to do their work. Confidence, not arrogance.


Edmondson shares the story of an experienced pilot as an example of humble leadership.  At the beginning of every flight, he will say to his co-pilots: “I have never done a perfect flight. So, if you see that I did something wrong, I need to hear about it immediately”. It is nothing about personality; it is all about stances. Make any topic discussable at a local team level, and you will see a change.


One last point before this essay turns out to be too long and not readable: psychological safety is not a goal! A fearless organization is a line to support the team to achieve its goal. The goal could be excellence, the six sigmas, or being a customer service reference. It is your call what your goal is, but it cannot be psychological safety. This is an invitation to reflect if your team reacting quickly, addressing concerns, and sharing ideas and mistakes would be something you would like to see happening and start the change today.



Edmonson A. 2022 – Psychological Safety with Amy Edmonson. Watched on 16.10.2022 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKo9KvpA7eE


Edmondson A. 2018 – The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth

  • Seungyeon Shin

    I agree that psychological safety can start from me proactively asking good questions, taking feedback well, and coping with bad situations well with the team members. I was reflecting is SYNTRE a safe place for everyone to raise their voice to address the issue and learn together. Thank you for the great essay, Thais.