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Increasing psychological safety in your team

"If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking." R Buckminster Fuller

What is psychological safety?

Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson describes psychological safety as "a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves.” 

The Google Aristotle project described psychological safety as feeling safe to be vulnerable or take risks in front of team members.

Why is psychological safety important?

Google, Project Aristotle, discovered five components found in high-performing teams:

  1. Psychological safety
  2. Dependability
  3. Structure and clarity
  4. Meaning of work
  5. Impact of work

Of the five, psychological safety was by far the most important and underpinned the other four.

Much of the research conducted into psychological safety found that it leads to:

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Improved error reporting
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Managing change easier
  • Increased levels of employee engagement and productivity
  • Improved staff retention

How do you measure psychological safety?

Psychological safety can be measured using Edmundson's 7 item scale using either a seven or five point Likert scale (from strongly agree to strongly disagree):

  1. If you make a mistake at this organisation, it is often held against you.
  2. People at this organisation are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  3. People at this organisation sometimes reject others for being different.
  4. It is safe to take a risk in this organisation.
  5. It is difficult to ask other members of this organisation for help.
  6. No one at this organisation would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  7. Working with members of this organisation, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilised.

How can you improve psychological safety?

The ProSocial matrix, created by Dr. Kevin Polk, a clinical psychologist, is a tool designed to help members of groups improve psychological safety and work better together. 

It has been used on a globally diverse range of groups such as government agencies, schools, companies, and communities.  

This globally proven framework based on Nobel Prize winner, Elinor Ostrom’s eight design principles for successful groups, enables teams to understand and commit to behaviours that work for achieving the shared purposes of the organisation.

The ProSocial Matrix starts with taking the group through the psychological flexibility matrix, an interactive diagram explaining the processes of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or Training (ACT) designed to increase psychological flexibility and valued living by helping people to notice: 

  •      the difference between sensory and mental experiencing
  •      the difference between how it feels to move towards values and how it feels to move away from unwanted mental experiencing

While the ACT matrix focuses on an individual’s behaviour in the context of the individual’s values, the ProSocial Matrix focuses on the group behaviours in the context of the groups shared purpose. The second stage is to take the group through the ProSocial Matrix.  This time the group use the matrix to identify:

  •      What the groups shared purpose is? What they are there to do?
  •      What shows up inside team members (thoughts and emotions) and gets in the way of the shared purpose?
  •      What behaviours team members have that would move them away from what shows up inside?
  •      What behaviours group members can do to move towards the shared purpose?

The Matrix.png

Benefits of using the ProSocial Matrix with teams include:

  • A better understanding of and commitment to the organisational vision, purpose, values and objectives
  • Increased productivity and improved customer satisfaction
  • Higher levels of engagement leading to improved results

For more information please email 

The ProSocial Matrix

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