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Raj Ramanandi Jun 14, 2023 4:06:56 PM 7 min read

Our Primer on Psychological Safety: Transcript from video

Link to original video here:

Hi and welcome to this primer video by InChorus about psychological safety. This is part of a series of informational videos about key EDI topics that are growing in importance.
Now, today we're going to cover the following: 
  • What happens when there is no psychological safety?
  • What is it? 
  • What are the drivers of peak team performance?
  • What surprising behaviours should you target to increase it? 
  • And finally what steps can you take today to increase psychological safety in your team or organisation?
Let's kick off. So, in 2010 an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, led to the largest marine oil spill in history.
An estimated 210 million gallons of oil released into the Gulf over the course of 87 days. The spill had a devastating impact on the marine ecosystem and the local fishing industry.
The oil spill killed 11 people and injured 17 others in the initial explosion. In addition, the clean efforts exposed thousands of workers to hazardous chemicals and increased the risk of respiratory and other health problems.
The total cost of the oil spill has been estimated at over 65 billion dollars and the long term impact of the spill on the environment and local communities is still being studied and evaluated.
Of particular note for us today is that an investigation found a culture of complacency and pressure to meet production quotas had created a lack of psychological safety on the rig, leading to a failure to properly address safety concerns and prevent the disaster.
Now, in 2013, a building housing several factories in Bangladesh collapsed, the Rana Plaza Factory killing over 1100 people and injuring thousands more. The factory complex housed several different factories producing garments for a number of international brands, including Primark, Walmart, Mango, Benetton, Bon Marche, C&A, Matalan and many more. These and other companies faced public criticism and pressure to take responsibility for the safety of the workers in their supply chains.
The disaster was linked to a lack of psychological safety in the workplace. Workers had repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of the building but were ignored by their managers who failed to raise issues with senior leaders.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster is often cited as a key example of a tragic event that was caused at least in part by a lack of psychological safety in the workplace. The disaster occurred in 1986 when an explosion at the nuclear power plant in Ukraine released a massive amount of radioactive material into the environment. The explosion and subsequent fires were so bad that scientists estimate the zone around the former plant would not be habitable for up to 20,000 years. One of the main factors contributing to the disaster was a culture of fear and secrecy within the Soviet Union. Which discouraged workers from speaking up about safety concerns or questioning authority. In particular, several workers at Chernobyl had raised concerns about the safety of the reactor testing procedures. But their concerns were ignored or dismissed by their superiors. 
These three tragedies are a stark reminder of the importance of psychological safety. 
So what is psychological safety? It refers to a shared belief held by members of a team or organisation that it is safe to take interpersonal risks such as speaking up, asking questions and making mistakes, without fear of negative consequences to one's self-image, status or career. This definition emphasises the importance of trust and mutual respect within the organisation and a group, as well as the need for open and honest communication, constructive feedback and a willingness to learn from mistakes in order to drive innovation and achieve better outcomes.
Now in the modern workplace, particularly in progressive organisations, psychological safety is increasingly recognised as a critical factor in promoting employee wellbeing, productivity and engagement and is viewed as a key driver of organisational success
So, you what what bad looks like, what does good look like? In 2012, Google conducted a study to investigate the factors that contributed to high performing teams within their organisation. The study of more than 200 teams across a range of industries and roles found that the single most important factor in creating successful teams was, you guessed it, psychological safety.
Teams with high levels were better able to share information, admit mistakes and take risks without fear of negative consequences. As a result, they were more likely to learn from their experiences, to innovate, leading better outcomes and greater overall performance. And while the Google study on high performing teams did not assign specific percentages to the various factors that improved performance, they highlighted five key drivers that drove productivity, commitment, engagement - psychological safety being number one, and teams with high levels of it were twice as likely to meet or exceed their goals. In second place was dependability, which is the expectation that tear members will reliably complete tasks and meet commitments. In third place was structure and clarity. The presence of clear goals, roles and processes within specific teams. In fourth place was meaning and impact - the sense that the work being done is personally meaningful and has a positive impact on others. And finally work and personal life balance - the ability to manage work demands alongside personal commitments and interests. That's something that we've all got more familiar with over the last couple of years.
Now we encourage all people strategies to have overlap with these key principles. 
So what kind of behaviours should we be encouraging in our organisations?
So the preeminent thinker in this field, Amy Edmondson's research shows several surprising findings. Let's run through four of them here.
  1. So number one was embrace conflict, psychological safety is not just about being nice or avoiding conflict. Edmondson has found that psychological involves candid and constructive feedback, which can lead to better decision making and problem solving. 
  1. She also encourages more mistakes, or what she calls a paradox of learning. She discovered that in high performing teams and organisations, the frequency of reported errors tends to be higher.This counterintuitive finding suggests that teams that are more comfortable reporting and acknowledging mistakes are also more effective at learning from them and improving their performance over time.
  1. She also asked us to take more risks. She found that psychological safety plays a crucial role in fostering innovation within teams. When individuals feel safe, they take more risks and share unconventional ideas without fear of judgment or appraisals, and it promotes a culture of creativity and experimentation which leads to that innovation that we're all seeking.
  1. And finally, she said, suggests we should all be more challenging. Her research has shown that teams with high safety are more effective at problem solving decision making. And when team members feel safe to express opinions, ask questions, and challenge assumptions it leads to a broader range of perspectives and robust solutions to complex problems. 
So, to round off, what is it that we can do in our organisations today? Something tangible and quick to action! Here are six opportunities. 
  1. Number one, leaders and managers should model the behaviour they want to see in their employees. They should demonstrate openness to feedback, and actively seek out different perspectives. Now, this behaviour sets the tone for the company company culture, and encourages others to follow suit.
  2. You could also provide- training on effective communication and conflict resolution. These skills can help navigate difficult conversations, and help individuals work collaboratively. You can also help establish clear expectations and guidelines for behaviour, particularly in situations that are prone to conflict or tension.
  3. It's also- important to- to build a culture where mistakes are acknowledged, and failure is seen as a learning opportunity rather than something to be ashamed of or punished for.
  4. Don't need to mention number four in any great detail, but promote diversity. A diverse workplace with a range of perspectives and experiences creates a culture where employees feel valued and supported. You have different perspectives coming into play, as I said. 
  5. Additionally, companies should create channels for feedback and engagement. Surveys, focus groups, dedicated speak-up platforms like InChorus can provide critical insights into employee concerns and ideas for improvement. These channels also promote safety and a sense of ownership in the workplace. 
  6. Finally, and something that we can't stress enough, psychological safety must come before engagement. You can't have a workforce that feels unsafe yet you're still trusting your engagement survey outcomes. You need to have safety in place and then trust your surveys. One way to start this process is to implement anonymous reporting and feedback as you build up safety in parallel.
Now each of these 6 steps offers you some clear options and kind of tangible paths you can take today to start building psychological safety. 
So that's it for the primer. If you have any questions or comments find us at and if you enjoyed watching this please do share it with colleagues and peers.

Link to full video here:

Raj Ramanandi

Raj is Co-CEO and Founder of InChorus Group