Sitting amidst the hum of the ongoing team meeting, a spark ignites within you—an innovative idea that could be a game-changer. You clear your throat, ready to share your insight, but then . . . doubt seizes you.
Thoughts race through your mind: What if they laugh? What if they criticize? Will I risk my reputation with this idea?
And just like that, the idea remains trapped within you, as the meeting carries on without it.
Does this scenario resonate with you? If so, you’re far from alone. Across workplaces worldwide, employees often hesitate to share their thoughts with a group out of fear of judgment or perhaps even negative repercussions. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Psychological safety, as described by McKinsey & Company, is “a shared belief that a team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves freely, contributing ideas, and admitting mistakes without fear of embarrassment, judgment, or punishment.
At RTC, we take this definition one step further to say that psychological safety is the degree to which members of any given group feel they can risk speaking up without being met with rejection or humiliation, thereby revealing more of the full person they are. In a psychologically safe workplace, every voice matters, every opinion counts, and when people show up as the authentic version of who they are, innovation and creativity thrive.
The Importance of a Psychologically Safe Workplace
A comprehensive study of team effectiveness, Google’s Project Aristotle, found psychological safety to be the most crucial factor in building a successful team. It wasn’t about who was on the team, but how the team worked together that resulted in how effective the team became.
More so than just teams or projects, psychological safety permeates through every facet of company culture. When you have a psychologically safe culture, you more easily foster trust, respect, and open communication. Employees can learn and grow, not just professionally, but personally. You cultivate an environment of engagement, innovation, and productivity. McKinsey and Co. agrees with the necessity of psychological safety, stating that 89 percent of employees say that psychological safety is essential to the workplace, and it is the responsibility of business leaders to create a safe and respectful workplace.
Perhaps you agree that psychological safety is important to company culture and the overall vitality of the organization. But how do you implement it? How do you become a psychologically safe workplace?
Carving out time for trust-building activities and professional development is key in promoting psychological safety. A vulnerable team activity, such as storytelling sessions where employees are encouraged to share more deeply, is a powerful tool that can help bridge gaps, foster connection, and humanize the work environment. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, sharing personal stories can increase empathy and understanding, leading to stronger interpersonal connections. These sessions give everyone a voice, helping them feel seen, heard, and valued. When employees feel seen, heard, and valued, they are more likely to step into an empowered role and to make decisions from that empowered place.
Storytelling empowers teams to see one another as not only capable, but heroic and able to overcome obstacles with their unique gifts life has bestowed them. Harvard Business Review’s Richard Boyatzis says, “There is a greater need to help leadership and senior management realize that they’re not supposed to do all the jobs. It’s imperative they value their talent, not only for the purposes of retainment, but to step aside and let them succeed at their jobs.” When leadership gives their direct reports the opportunity to hear one another’s stories and witness how someone overcame the death of a parent, or the loss of an old career, suddenly client problems seem small in comparison. Suddenly, their unique strengths shine in a way others hadn’t seen before.
In addition to sharing stories, vulnerability-based workshops, seminars, and sessions encourage individuals to open up about the messier parts of their lives—including challenges, doubts, and fears. Individuals who are willing to be vulnerable with each other can build deeper relationships and establish greater trust by breaking down barriers between one another. When you can share your most vulnerable sides and not be met with rejection, but met with love and gratitude, the potential for respect, honesty, and connection extends far beyond a once-in-a-while project or watercooler break.
But it’s not just about the time spent in meetings or sessions. It’s also about the time between. It’s about nurturing a culture that inspires employees to feel connected, supported, and respected, even when they’re not physically together. This means providing the tools, technology, resources, and opportunities for continuous trust-building, communication, feedback, and collaboration. It means promoting a culture of mutual respect and understanding, where individuals feel safe expressing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns at any time.
Psychological safety isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have in the work environment. By investing time and resources in fostering psychological safety, organizations can unlock the full potential of their teams, boosting innovation, productivity, and overall company culture.