To remain competitive in any industry, innovation is key. This needn’t mean a major breakthrough or a technological advancement – even the smallest innovation in process or approach will impact growth. Whilst many companies invest in ways to foster innovation, research suggests we should also look at what might be deterring it . Indeed, research shows that one of the key challenges to innovation is fear of failure – a reluctance to offer ideas for fear of being wrong, being chastised or ridiculed, or irritating your team.
The antidote to fear of failure is psychological safety. So what is psychological safety and how can you adopt this practice to help innovate your business?
Psychological safety promotes openness and reduces risks to allow for new ideas.
Drawing on the work of Dr Amy Edmondson, psychological safety rests on the belief that staff should be able to contribute ideas, raise concerns, make mistakes, and (respectfully) challenge others , without fear of being shamed, degraded or shut out. Not only does this create a feedback loop of continuous learning, implementation and reflection, it also allows for an honest and open environment to reduce anxieties around risk taking and encourage outside-the-box problem solving. This type of workplace culture enables innovation.
Studies show psychological safety is the most important contributor to high-performing teams.
Since its inception, research into psychological safety has demonstrated its impact on innovation and growth. Dr Edmonson found that high-performing teams are those which made more mistakes, yet felt safe to admit them and move forward. Conversely, lower performing teams generally felt humiliated for speaking up . Likewise, Google’s Project Aristotle found psychological safety to be the most essential factor in team performance, demonstrating even “extremely smart, high-powered employees” at Google needed a psychologically safe work environment to innovate . Further studies have found psychological safety to be a foundational factor in organisational performance more widely, not just between individuals .
Fostering psychological safety begins with your leaders.
Management and business leaders ultimately have the greatest influence on workplace culture, and so steps taken by management can do much to create a safe and innovative environment.
- 1. Frame work as a learning problem, not an execution problem. Everything can be an experiment.
- 2. Acknowledge your own mistakes and encourage others to do the same.
- 3. Stay curious and ask questions of your staff.
Psychological safety is a process, but can ultimately help foster innovation and grow your organisation.
For more information on how to implement strategies, check out our Psychological Safety Workshop for managers and staff.
 Edmondson, A. & Mogelof, J. P. (2005). Explaining Psychological Safety in Innovation Teams: Organizational Culture, Team Dynamics, or Personality? Creativity and Innovation in Organizational Teams.
 Edmonson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams, Administrative Science Quarterly.
 Google, (2013). Project Aristotle.
 Google, (2021). State of DevOps.