Friday, June 1, 2012

Team Learning - Psychological Safety

One key internal mechanisms that aids teams to operate effectively is the psychological safety that team members gain while operating within the unit of the team.  Edmondson (2012) identified the general premise of psychological safety: no one team member can perform perfectly in every scenario. Team members vary on their knowledge and experience, additionally work places and tasks vary on levels of complexity.  As the level of complexity increases psychological safety becomes an even more critical team construct.

Kostopoulos and Bozionelos (2011) identified psychological safety where team members are safe for interpersonal risk taking, meaning that teams and team members are able to take risks without any repercussions if they fail.  The learning process, rather than the results, is what is important to the team - as long as the team members continue to learn by trying new methods to solve problems they should feel free to explore without being penalized in any manner.  Psychological safety provides a healthy learning environment by facilitating exploratory learning and creating an environment conducive to critical thinking and open discussion (Kostopoulos & Bozionelos, 2011).

Edmondson (2012) identified some benefits provided by psychological safe work environments for teams:

  • Encourages speaking up
  • Enables clarity of thought
  • Supports productive conflict
  • Mitigates failure
  • Promotes innovation
  • Removes obstacles to pursuing goals for achieving performance
  • Increases accountability (p. 126, Exhibit 4.2)

Schein (2010) identified that a change leader "must reduce learning anxiety by increasing the learner's sense of psychological safety" (p. 305).  Schein (2010) identified eight activities that a change leader must empliment to provide a psychological safe team environment:

  • A compelling positive vision
  • Formal training
  • Involvement of the learner
  • Informal training of relevant "family" groups, and teams
  • Practice fields, coaches, and feedback
  • Positive role models
  • Support groups in which learning problems can be aired and discussed
  • Systems and structures that are consistent with the new way of thinking and working (pp. 306-307).

When each of these eight activities are created, simultaneous, a clear psychological safe work environment will be provided for teams to operate in - providing a safe learning environment for team members to function in.


Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.    

Kostopoulos, K. C., & Bozionelos, N. (2011). Team exploratory and exploitative learning: Psychological safety, task conflict, and team performance. Group and Organization Management, 36(3), 385-415. dpi: 10.1177/1059601111405985

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
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