How Psychological Safety Impacts Performance And Well-being

Psychological Safety

As a lead researcher at Google explained, ‘We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference.

The ‘‘who’’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’ The most effective teams consisted of genteel individuals with high levels of trust, genuine empathy, and high levels of energy to collaborate and deliver results. These elements can be detected in a relatively short space of time.  

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The faith that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up is the ‘secret sauce’ that Google found. Project Aristotle concluded: They found that ‘psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a teamwork’.

By enhancing group norms around trust and safety is the key to improving team performance. Several companies like Psych-safety-UK and NeuroCapability developed psychological safety survey tools that can assess team psychological safety to measure the markers of a team’s performance.

A key point for leaders is that the language will influence the team dynamic. Two words that can have a disproportionately negative impact on morale and performance are I and they. Thankfully, a word that can undo that damage, if adopted as a better replacement, is we.

How about a switch to a world where the only time we use I or they is to say, “I made a mistake,” or, “They did an excellent job.” Otherwise, use we to build team cohesiveness. Based on the ‘we’ cultures that build a space of psychological safety, it’s amazing what a positive impact this subtle shift can have.

Sir John Whitmore, the author of the book Coaching for Performance, references how job interference leads to lowered trust and collaboration in teams.

Integrity, discipline, and congruency are more important than ever. The virtual team environment makes it easy to forget the norms needed for teams to function. People need courtesy, trust, empathy, and energy. People perform best when the prevailing mood in their team is one of feeling psychologically safe.

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Sustaining excellence in the face of constant challenge and change is a truly fascinating pursuit. It can be done if we understand how to enable a healthy climate in our teams. More than ever psychological safety is at risk when working remotely. The brain’s trust hormone (oxytocin) has all but evaporated and people feel isolated now more than ever.

Together in a psychologically safe team of trust, we can model some of the best team cultures in the world and manifest mastery in all that we do together. A classic that many teams are reading together in this ‘new normal’ of isolation is the book by Thomas Merton. It is the book, No Man Is An Island. What will help you feel more connected? What can you do to build psychological safety in your team?


Written By:Justin James Kennedy, Ph.D., D.Prof.
With Tim Wigham and Linda Ray
Originally Appeared On:Psychology Today
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How Psychological Safety Impacts Performance And Well-being
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How Psychological Safety Impacts Performance And Well-being
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Dr. Justin James Kennedy

Justin James Kennedy, Ph.D., is a professor of applied neuroscience and organisational behaviour at UGSM-Monarch Business School, College & University, in Hagedorn, Zug, Switzerland. He is also the Ph.D. professor of applied neuroscience and supervision with Canterbury Christchurch University in the U.K. His book, Brain Re-Boot, is an overview of applied neuroscience which proposes various applications from behavioural neuroscience, neuroeconomics, social neuroscience, and health neuroscience, and offers brain-based tools and behavioural hacks shown to build resilience to stress-related pathology and improve cognitive performance in organisational life. His academic work recently defined the model of "Organisational Wellbeing Neuroscience," as described in his chapter of the academic textbook, The Handbook of Organisational Wellbeing. (SAGE publ.). His research informs his executive coaching processes, his licenced clinical practice in neuro-behavioural analysis and neuropsychology, and his consulting to various organisations globally.View Author posts