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Psychological Safety and its Importance in Mission Driven Organizations

When you share a foundation of psychological safety with your teammates, you will feel more freedom to take interpersonal risks without the fear of being judged or penalized. Edmonson (1999) described a team rich in psychological safety as one characterized by trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves. Examples of this include emails mentioning family and reciprocal swearing. Beyond being able to be your whole self at work, psychological safety has been shown to mitigate anger during conflict, making the workplace more genuine and more peaceful.


How to cultivate a climate of psychological safety:

Communication: Everyone gets the opportunity to say what they need to say at an approximately equal rate of value. Meaning, everyone feels that the contributions of their teammates are about equal—even if they are in different subjects or task areas. This requires fostering open and intentional communication norms.

            Empathy: Teammates genuinely attempt to understand the feelings of others and be understanding of their perspective. Empathy is known to increase helping behaviors like picking up the slack when a teammate needs help or keeping the office kitchen clean. Encouraging Being curious about strangers, listening and allowing one’s self to be vulnerable, and expanding your natural circle of empathy (being sympathetic to those you would be naturally less sympathetic to) will all increase ones ability to empathize.


Bottom line: forge real connections!


Are you a mission driven organization?

            Psychological safety can play an even larger, more impactful role in mission driven organizations. In these organizations, conflicts can be more emotional, resources more scarce, and goal attainment more time sensitive. Thus, it is imperative for employees to ensure they are aligned with the organization’s mission. This drives psychological safety such that team members trust the importance of the mission creates the space to contribute genuinely. Further, cultivating a tolerance of failure allows people to fail quickly, communicate about it, and move forward effectively, together.              

Tips for fabulous failure:

  • Create a culture to learn from mistakes. Ensure people are not afraid to ask questions and talk about when they have made mistakes.
  • Solicit and provide feedback often. Do not just wait for annual performance reviews. Some organizations partake in a “mistake of the month” forum where they go through the ins and out of a mistake that was made and how to correct it or do it differently next time.
  • Try to avoid the fundamental attribution bias: attributing mistakes or slights to who a person is rather than considering the contribution of circumstances like we would for ourselves. For example: I am engaging in attribution bias if when I am late, I feel it is because there were many things out of my control and it should not reflect on me as as person. However, if my teammate is late it is because he is lazy and does not care. This type of bias often hinders the ability for a team to create psychological safety and form a mutual level of respect.

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