How psychological safety builds team effectiveness

In 2017, Google launched a ground-breaking study to figure out what drove teams to succeed.

The answer was transcendent: Once considered a “soft skill”, psychological safety was now the single most important driver of team effectiveness at the most innovative company in history, beating management-friendly drivers that were listed like dependability, structure and impact*.


Read the Leadership in a psychologically safe workplace guide here


What is psychological safety?  

Psychological safety in the workplace is the shared belief that you are free to speak up, e.g. suggest new ideas, question existing ones or even to challenge the status quo without fear of negative consequences.  

But as much as Google proved the business case behind psychological safety, it was Amy Edmondson’s famous TedTalk, Building a Psychologically Safe Workplace, back in 2014 that first brought the term into the mainstream.  


Is your team psychologically safe?  

Anecdotally speaking, the prevalence of psychological safety seems to be a bit of a blind spot for managers. Ask the majority of managers in your organisation if they feel their people feel comfortable bringing up concerns to them, and the vast majority are likely to say ‘yes’. But the reality is different…  

During the height of the pandemic in 2021, Crucial Learning released a study of 1300 people and revealed that 90% had felt “emotionally or physically unsafe to speak their mind” more than once in the last 18 months.  

The result was a host of unhealthy behaviours around communicating:  

  • Staying silent but feeling inauthentic (65%)
  • Avoiding people (47%)
  • Silently fuming and stewing (42%)
  • Ruminating about all the things they’d say if they had the courage (39%)
  • Faking agreement (19%)
  • Severing relationships (14%) 

The next poll by Crucial Learning revealed what these behaviours cost organisations**:  

People who estimate their inability to hold crucial conversations cost their organisation more than $50,000: 22%

People who estimate they waste two weeks or more in the unhealthy behaviours listed above: 50%


What does a psychologically safe organisation look like?  

There are a myriad of reasons that employees resist speaking out (if you’d like to know why, download the Psychological Safety eBook where we go into this in detail), but the reasons to start building psych safety within your company culture are manifold:  

The overarching characteristic of psychologically safe work environments is that when people feel safe to speak up, they want to speak up, preventing errors and encouraging innovation.  

When employees can share ideas without being ridiculed or shot down, creativity and innovation is nurtured.  

People develop the courage to test ideas because they feel supported by their manager if they make a mistake. A culture of learning prevails and, if you’re in learning and development, we don’t need to tell you that continuous learning is a critical component of employee engagement and retention.  

There is transparency around how decisions are made, why they are made, and the organisation’s purpose and goals. This provides an opportunity for employees to have greater ownership over their respective areas and develop a holistic understanding of concerns and considerations at all levels of the organisation.  


The business case behind building psychological safety on your team

The interesting thing about psychological safety is that it’s less a management technique, and more an outcome of good behaviour and emotional intelligence of the leadership team.  

Think of it like this…  

Good leadership = psychological safety  Bad leadership = fear 


Free flow of ideas 

Evolving processes 



Reduced attrition  

Increased productivity  

No trust 

Ideas are concealed 

Process is rigid to the point of dangerous or even malicious compliance 

Employees feel unsupported 

Stagnated creativity 

High attrition 

Lower results 


What the data says about increasing psychological safety

While the above organisational snapshot may seem warm and fuzzy, the bottom-line result is a solid upward line on the graph.  

Gallup points out that moving the ratio from three in ten employees who feel their opinions count to six in ten can empower a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents and a 12% increase in productivity.

When we combine those stats with a reduction in mental health crises, burnout and general unhappiness on the job, we can get behind Google’s assertion that psychological safety is the key to team effectiveness.  

For a step-by-step guide to increasing psychological safety so that your employees will talk to you, read the Leadership in a psychologically safe workplace guide here



* https://rework.withgoogle.com/print/guides/5721312655835136/  

** https://go.cruciallearning.com/rs/313-LOT-447/images/Costly%20Conversations%20-%20Slides.pdf