Whether team members feel psychologically safe has a strong impact on the team’s performance, it forms the basis for innovation, motivation, commitment, and creativity.

Part 3: Team Performance

Amy Edmondson explains in her book “The Fearless Organization” the influence of psychological safety in combination with responsibility and motivation and what output can be expected accordingly.

  • With a low level of psychological safety, accountability, and motivation, individuals and teams enter a state of apathy.

  • If there is a high level of responsibility & motivation, with low psychological security, space is opened for fear. Goals are achieved, but without room for change.

  • A high level of psychological safety with a low sense of responsibility and motivation is the breeding ground for the well-known comfort zone. Most colleagues feel very comfortable there, but they lack the necessary drive to drive innovation and progress.

  • A high level of psychological safety with a low sense of responsibility and motivation is the breeding ground for the well-known comfort zone. Most colleagues feel very comfortable

  • If there is an environment with a high level of psychological security, a sense of responsibility and motivation, this promotes, among other things, the autonomy of employees, their willingness to learn and their creativity. For example, a psychologically safe working environment can promote the performance of the team, individual colleagues feel valued and their creativity and willingness to think and act innovatively increases. Prerequisite: The zest for action is present in the team.

On a spectrum – from little tension to too much tension in a team – the performance claim and the necessary level of trust can be well demonstrated. With little or no tension in the team, conflicts are avoided or impulsive ad-hoc conflicts that may have fermented under the surface for a long time. In this apathy and comfort zone, the team performs poorly and has a low level of conflict. With a high level of trust, tensions can be used to achieve better results. Creative tension – for example, juxtaposing different perspectives – can lead to new insights. In a safe environment, mistakes are searched for the causes instead of culprits to learn from them. In teams with high tensions and little trust, unproductive conflicts, the inability to act or even loss of trust occur. Projects can be maneuvered into a situation from which one can no longer get out, up to the failure of the project or individual actions. In this fear zone, team performance decreases and the cost of problems increases. Only trust allows top performance, because only here can a high-performance standard be guaranteed while at the same time sustainability.

Would you like to assess yourself and your team in this spectrum? Then answer the following questions to get started.

  • Where are you currently in this model? Where do you see your team and why?

  • As a leader, how can you help your team approach the Learning and Performance Quadrant?

  • What’s difficult about that?

  • As a leader and the main person responsible for the culture and mood of the team, what do you need to create an atmosphere of psychological safety?

What can be observed in teams with high psychological security?

Teams with high psychological certainty have a climate in which different perspectives are valued. Team members interact with each other in an inclusive, trusting, and respectful atmosphere where no one is afraid to admit failure. Team members talk openly about feelings and needs, building strong personal relationships with each other. The atmosphere is characterized by mutual feedback and appreciation for actions, progress and/or results. There are clear procedures and rituals for dealing with conflicts in the team and clear behavioral expectations among each other. This involves negotiating which values are important to the team and how this is reflected in behaviors, i.e. a joint development of a team culture and identity.

How does each individual feel it in everyday life? And what can each individual do?

Psychological safety is felt by every individual in everyday life if they do not have to fear rejection, ignorance, or degradation when they ask a question, share an idea, express a concern, or make a mistake. In team meetings, the speaking time does not depend on the status, but on the perspective that is brought in and thus becomes clear how differences in the team are valued. The team shows understanding for each other, even if it is possible to argue the matter.

The responsibility for creating psychological safety lies with each individual in the team. In addition to many individual trusting relationships in the team, this also includes inclusion and sensitivity in their various forms. Sensitivity to oneself, others and context has a positive effect on the dynamics of social interactions and is an integrative aspect of team membership. The emotional perception and regulation of oneself and in interpersonal relationships is called emotional intelligence.

Self-sensitivity and regulation …

… is the ability to sense one’s own emotions and understand their origins. The better we understand the underlying causes of our emotions, the better we can respond and articulate our needs. It is about the awareness and acceptance of one’s own emotions in order to articulate and regulate them. This supports authenticity when people feel encouraged to be themselves and express themselves at work. Self-compassion and self-esteem are supportive attitudes for self-sensitivity.

What you can do:

  • Develop a feeling for one’s own emotions (emotional granularity)

  • Taking responsibility for your own energy balance

  • Practicing emotional self-control

  • Be authentic

  • Show self-compassion & self-respect

Social sensitivity …

… is the ability to understand, be aware of, and vicariously experience each other’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences (either past or present) without being fully communicated in an objectively explicit way. In addition, recognize the effects of one’s own actions on others (e.g. if a colleague needs to concentrate, is aware that a loud discussion in the same room can interfere and therefore moves to another room). Social sensitivity refers to others and supports belonging when individuals feel connected to others at work. Acceptance includes employee value, inclusion and diversity.

What you can do:

  • Show empathy for others

  • Develop awareness of the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of others

  • Relationship management

  • Lead by example and get feedback

  • Conflict resolution

  • Engage team members who are withdrawing

Context sensitivity …

… (e.g. in relation to the situation or organization) is the ability to understand not only the self and team level, but also the context in which the situation occurs, e.g. not having a critical conversation in the open-plan office or seeing similar patterns in the group also in the organization.

What you can do:

  • Develop organizational (contextual) and situational awareness

  • Taking a systemic perspective (working with hypotheses)

  • Recognizing patterns in the organization

  • Exploring the causes of errors instead of personalizing them

  • Creating a safe space