Fostering Psychological Safety

Like most summers, I had a chance to engage in some personal and professional reading that just seems to be hard to accomplish during a busy school year. One book that caught my attention was The Fearless Organization (2019) by Amy Edmondson.

I was first drawn to the work of Amy Edmondson through the writing of Charles Duhigg, specifically the book Smarter, Faster, Better (2016). In the book, Duhigg talks about the power of teams for increasing productivity and innovation, specifically citing a study at Google focusing on what makes a highly productive team. As explained in the video, Google’s Project Aristotle found that the composition of the team had little impact on effectiveness, but rather how the team worked together was the secret of their success. Central to success was establishing something referred to as psychological safety.

In The Fearless Organization, Edmondson expands on the idea of psychological safety and the critical role it plays for contemporary teams. Edmondson states that ““In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake or ask for help, others will not react badly. Instead, candor is both allowed and expected. Psychological safety exists when people feel their workplace is an environment where they can speak up, offer ideas, and ask questions without fear of being punished or embarrassed.” (p. 15)

This connects so strongly to the development of Collaborative Response frameworks in schools, where collaboration is an essential component, with teams needing to function at high levels. In Collaborative Team Meetings, all team members need to feel that they can express ideas, strategies and actions freely, without fear of being negated, or seen as less than effective than their peers. High levels of trust and safety need to be present.

Here is a template developed to engage in a conversation with your team regarding what are the things we explicitly do to positively and negatively impact psychological safety.

As a Jigsaw Learning team, we recently engaged in a team discussion regarding actions that school leaders take that can positively or negatively impact psychological safety. We encourage leaders to review our ideas, to help identify actions they are currently engaging in and potentially next steps for consideration when trying to build high levels of psychological safety.

We wish you all the best in continuing to foster highly impactful teams to respond to the needs of students!

Author: Kurtis Hewson