Creating Psychological Safety

Psychologically safe teams learn more, which is related to increased performance.

Across many studies, teams with high psychological safety have higher task performance, work engagement, creativity and information-sharing.

The relationship between psychological safety and learning as well as performance is strongest for complex, knowledge intensive tasks involving creativity and sensemaking.

Team members with higher psychological safety are more committed to and satisfied with their team.


  • Edmondson, A.C. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350–383.
  • Frazier, M.L., Fainschmidt, S., Klinger, R.L., Pezeshkan, A., and Vracheva (2017). Psychological safety: A meta-analytic review and extension. Personnel Psychology, 70, 113-165.

How to Build Psychological Safety

Leaders should set the stage

  • Frame today’s problems as not being able to be solved by one person or perspective, so everyone’s ideas are needed in a knowledge economy where work is collaborative and complex.
    • “We have never solved this problem before, so we are all learning together.”
    • “Your participation is essential to success.”
  • Acknowledge your own fallibility and limits.
    • “I may miss something; I don’t have all the answers; I am not an expert in X.”
  • Allow for team member mistakes.
    • Mistakes should be considered part of growth and learning rather than punished.
  • Be vulnerable
    • A leader or respected team member who is vulnerable and authentic will help cultivate psychological safety among team members.
    • Leading by example will both consciously and subconsciously signal to team members that the environment is psychologically safe.
  • Be aware of power and status dynamics.
    • Power and status influences may limit psychological safety.
    • If necessary, allow team members a set-aside time to talk about their ideas without a leader present.

Invite engagement

  • Proactivity invite input.
    • “We need to hear from you; Your voice may make the difference; We need your brain in the game.”
  • Provide time in meetings for team members to voice their concerns.
    • All concerns should be taken seriously and discussed by the team.
  • Ask plenty of good questions.
    • Invite divergent, “outside of the box” thinking by asking:
      • “What are we missing?”
      • “Who has a different perspective?”
      • “Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment”
    • Invite a deeper level of thinking by asking:
      • “Unpack that. Tell me more.”
      • “Can you give us an example?”
      • “What would happen if we did X?”
      • “Was everything as good as it could have been?”
  • Create rules of engagement.

Respond Appreciatively

  • Recognize that even if you set the stage and invite engagement, psychological safety may be damaged if you don’t respond productively.
  • Show genuine interest in comments.
  • Listen to understand, not to respond.
  • Affirm every member’s comments in some way.
  • Generate accountability.
    • All members should be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and be affirmed for such behavior.
    • Holding others accountable helps other members to be more responsible while moving the entire team toward growth.
  • Don’t humiliate members for admitting mistakes. Rather, help them get back on track.

Note that these steps need to be implemented on a continuous basis and not just at one point in time.


From the Penn State Team Science website: