psychological safety

Psychological Safety and Interpersonal Trust

Trust and acceptance are the key.

When it comes to teams and innovation the only way to get the best out of people is to ensure they feel confident and comfortable.

Is “Psychological Safety” all it’s cracked up to be?

A recent New York Times article about new research from a team at Google could be credited for putting this term into the public vernacular in a meaningful way.

Psychological safety, teamwork, collaboration, innovation, organisational change,


Did Google invent Psychological Safety?

A while back Google was trying to work out ways they could build the perfect team, and lucky for you, they did a lot of the hard work uncovering some modern truths and steps you can take.

According to the New York Times, Google’s researchers “began by reviewing a half-century of academic studies looking at how teams worked.

Were the best teams made up of people with similar interests? Or did it matter more whether everyone was motivated by the same kinds of rewards?

Based on those studies, the researchers scrutinized the composition of groups inside Google:

  • How often did teammates socialize outside the office?
  • Did they have the same hobbies? Were their educational backgrounds similar?
  • Was it better for all teammates to be outgoing or for all of them to be shy?

They drew diagrams showing which teams had overlapping memberships and which groups had exceeded their departments’ goals. They studied how long teams stuck together and if gender balance seemed to have an impact on a team’s success.”

“No matter how researchers arranged the data, though, it was almost impossible to find patterns — or any evidence that the composition of a team made any difference.”

So what did?

In simplistic terms, creating an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable enough with each other to be vulnerable.

Or as the Googlers put it, “no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations.”

“We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency.”

“Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.”

Once you get your teams feeling all the feels, you’ll start to notice how positively this state of psychological safety can influence communication, collaboration, organizational change, and innovation.

A recent study published in the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health proved that improv training can make people more creative.

And a whole lot more. Turns out, improv improved participants’ self-esteem and self-efficacy too. This is essentially how confident someone is in themself and their abilities.

The authors of “Improv to Improve: The Impact of Improvisational Theater on Creativity, Acceptance, and Psychological Well-Being” attribute this benefit of improv to the open and trusting atmosphere that improvisation requires. Improvisers are trained to accept each other’s ideas and add to them.

According to Psychology Today, “They also practice embodying principles such as turning mistakes into assets and making other people look good. This creates a trusting environment where people don’t have to worry about being good or bad or right or wrong. Instead, they focus on what’s in the group’s best interest, which may explain the gains in participants’ psychological well-being related to self-esteem and self-efficacy.”

Simply stated, playing well with others may make you feel better about yourself.

“Researchers are finally starting to quantify improvisation’s benefits, and they’re finding that instead of focusing on our weaknesses and problems, improv offers us a safe space to play well with others, go with the flow, and take a break from overanalyzing.”

“It’s no surprise to most improvisers that improv helps boost creativity, well-being, and psychological safety at work, but it’s nice to finally have some evidence.”

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