A Guide to Psychological Safety in the Technology Industry

Psychological safety at work is important to ensure employees are comfortable sharing ideas without the fear of being judged by others. Learn more here.

Do your teams feel comfortable challenging the status quo? If the answer is no, then you may need to rethink your organisational style. Fostering an inclusive work environment where employees feel comfortable taking risks is essential to creating the most effective workforce and drive innovation.

Employees should feel free to speak their minds and empowered to contribute their full potential. This is known as psychological safety. Without psychological safety, a workplace can foster a culture of fear, blame and mistrust, which can lead to disengagement and low productivity.

Let’s explore the concept of psychological safety in more detail and take a look at how you can make sure your workplace is psychologically safe.

What’s in this article?

What is psychological safety at work?

Psychological safety refers to the belief that you are free to share your thoughts and ideas freely within the workplace without the fear of being judged by colleagues. It is a term that was coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, but is now widely used across the working world. An environment that facilitates psychological safety enables employees to speak freely, take risks, admit to mistakes, and ask for help without the anticipation of negative consequences.

The initial research for Edmondson’s work took place in a hospital environment, where she discovered that the most effective teams made more errors than those that made fewer mistakes. After closer inspection, she found that the reason behind this was that these teams actually felt more comfortable admitting to their mistakes.

A lack of psychological safety at work will have a significant impact on minority groups in particular. It is reported that a culturally and nationally diverse team may experience difficulties when it comes to expressing their thoughts, opinions and ideas. Moreover, employees who have previously experienced exclusion are more likely to reciprocate this behaviour in the form of acting disengaged with their colleagues and holding back on knowledge-sharing.

What are the four stages of psychological safety?

The four stages of psychological safety are:

  1. Inclusion safety
  2. Learner safety
  3. Contributor safety
  4. Challenger safety

1. Inclusion safety

Inclusion safety is the first stage towards psychological safety and involves the initial introduction of an individual into the team. It is achieved through a group genuinely inviting a newcomer into their space.

2. Learner safety

The second stage of psychosocial safety is learner safety, which involves feeling safe to engage within the environment, such as asking questions and making active contributions. Without learner safety, an individual is likely to remain passive and refrain from speaking their mind.

3. Contributor safety

Contributor safety is the third stage of psychosocial safety and is when an individual feels comfortable to contribute as a full member of a team and make a difference. At this stage, individuals have the authority to make large contributions to the group. 

4. Challenger safety

At the fourth stage, individuals feel safe to challenge the status quo and create debate within the group, without the fear of harming their reputation. The challenger safety stage ensures that individuals are able to be assertive and confident expressing their thoughts, even if they go against the norm.

Why is psychological safety important at work?

Psychological safety is crucial at work because it creates a safe environment where employees are more likely to speak up, take risks, and collaborate with their colleagues. Additional benefits of psychological safety at work include:

  1. Fosters creativity and innovation
  2. Improves communication
  3. Promotes a learning culture
  4. Increases team productivity
  5. Reduced turnover rates

1. Fosters creativity and innovation

When employees feel safe to share their ideas, they are more likely to come up with new and innovative solutions to problems. The reduced fear of failure also means employees are keener to try new approaches and make contributions, helping the business benefit from a greater diversity of thought.

2. Improves communication

Similarly, when employees are comfortable speaking their minds, communication between team members becomes more open and honest, leading to better collaboration and teamwork.

3. Promotes a learning culture

Employees who are encouraged to ask questions and feel comfortable making mistakes are more likely to learn and grow, both professionally and personally. This fosters a culture of continuous learning and will spread throughout an organisation.

4. Increases team productivity

Working in an environment with effective communication and excellent innovation will lead to fewer misunderstandings. It will create an environment where you can learn from your mistakes, leading to improved productivity.

5. Reduced turnover rates

A psychologically safe environment creates a positive workspace where employees feel ‘heard’, which can result in happier staff members and reduced employee turnover rates for your business.

How does psychological safety impact the technology industry?

Teamwork and innovation are the driving forces behind business productivity in a fast-paced industry like IT. Psychological safety is essential for creating a team culture that promotes innovation and creativity. Team members should feel comfortable challenging each other’s ideas, discussing problems openly, and taking risks without fear of negative consequences. This level of trust and openness can lead to better problem-solving, improved decision-making, and a more collaborative team environment.

In the tech industry, agile environments and cross-functional teams are common, and psychological safety is critical in these settings. Teams that can work together effectively across different disciplines and areas of expertise can achieve better outcomes than those that operate in silos.

What impact does remote working have on psychological safety?

While remote working offers many benefits, such as increased flexibility and work-life balance, it has also made psychological safety more complex.

Scheduling calls in advance, speaking over video calls, and messaging using online platforms are necessary for communication. However, they can create barriers to effective communication, such as difficulty reading body language and tone of voice. This makes it harder for team members to build trust and feel safe sharing their ideas, which can lead to a lack of psychological safety.

Additionally, remote work can be particularly challenging in group communication situations, such as group discussions or brainstorming sessions. Team members may have difficulty building upon each others’ ideas which may lead to misunderstandings.

How do you know if your team has psychological safety?

Before you can begin taking steps to improve psychological safety in your workplace, you must first identify whether your team has psychological safety concerns and where you need to improve. Use our handy checklist to help you - if you can answer ‘yes’ to the majority of the following questions, then you are doing a good job of creating a psychologically safe environment for your teams.

  • Are team members comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns?
  • Are mistakes treated as learning opportunities rather than being held against team members?
  • Is there an atmosphere of trust and openness where team members feel safe to share their ideas?
  • Does everyone contribute equally during team meetings?
  • Is there a culture of accountability, where employees take responsibility for their actions and are held to the same standards?
  • Are team members receptive to feedback and willing to learn from their mistakes?
  • Is there a sense of shared purpose among team members and a commitment to achieving a common goal?
  • Are team members respectful and supportive of each other, even when they disagree?
  • Does your team culture promote diversity, equity and inclusion, where everyone feels valued?

If you are still unsure, we recommend that you conduct a survey to gain feedback from your teams and understand their perspectives to see if they feel valued and listened to!

5 Steps to help improve psychological safety in your workplace

There are numerous steps you can take to improve psychological safety in your workplace, including the following:

  1. Provide training to managers
  2. Encourage everyone to speak up
  3. Promote healthy debate
  4. Foster an inclusive work environment
  5. Celebrate employee wins

1. Provide training to managers

Managers play a key role in creating a psychologically safe workplace and need the appropriate training in active listening, empathy, and conflict resolution to support their team members.

2. Encourage everyone to speak up

An environment of trust and open communication can be achieved by encouraging team members to share their ideas and opinions in meetings and brainstorming sessions.

3. Promote healthy debate

Healthy debate can lead to better decision-making and problem-solving. Managers should encourage healthy debate by promoting respectful communication and creating a safe space for members to disagree without fear of backlash.

4. Foster an inclusive work environment

Inclusion is critical to promoting psychological safety at work and involves fostering a diverse and inclusive work culture. This could include providing training on unconscious bias or providing equal opportunities to all team members. Learn more about the top diversity initiatives to get behind this year.

5. Celebrate employee wins

Recognising and celebrating team members’ successes is a great way to create a positive workplace culture where team members feel valued and appreciated. Team members that feel appreciated may be more likely to share their ideas and knowledge with their colleagues.

The future of workplace psychological safety

A future-proof business should be able to adapt to changing market conditions, customer needs, and emerging technologies. By creating a psychologically safe environment, businesses can encourage team members to be creative and take calculated risks, without the fear of negative consequences if they fail. Almost every technological success has come from multiple iterations and failed attempts!

A psychologically safe environment also fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement, which means employees are more likely to ask questions, learn from their experiences and develop new skills, which can help businesses stay ahead of the curve and grow.

Ultimately, achieving a psychologically safe environment starts at the top of an organisation. Recent studies by McKinsey reveal that strong leadership will pave the way for psychological safety.

The study emphasises that the traditional ‘command-and-control’ style of leadership does not foster a positive work environment and can be detrimental to psychological safety. Instead, consultative and supportive leadership should be used to encourage and empower team members.

Psychological safety at FDM

At FDM, we are firm believers that diverse teams make for more successful teams. This is why we hire our consultants based on strengths and attitude alone, selecting candidates from a variety of backgrounds and skill sets. It is our diverse recruitment practices that enable us to help businesses build agile teams that can benefit from new perspectives, diversity of thought, and a positive and inclusive work environment. This inclusivity is what facilitates a psychologically safe climate for employees and enables businesses to thrive, with an influx of creative ideas, cross-team collaboration, exceptional problem-solving and much more.

Now’s the time to build a psychologically safe environment for your organisation and future-proof your teams. Check out our consultant services to find out how we can help, or get in touch for more information.

About Preeta Ghoshal

Preeta is a content writer with over 10 years’ experience across print, digital and broadcast media. She has worked extensively in multi-media content creation. Her work reflects a mix of subject matter research and storytelling to produce content that is both informative and easily digestible. She is presently providing content support to each of the FDM programmes and the wider marketing team.

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