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Creating an Environment for Innovation

Fostering Innovation

I had a recent interaction with a team over the idea of onboarding and within the process of that, creating “psychological safety”.  I’d certainly heard the term, was familiar with the concept and absolutely agreed with the need for it, but bristled at the term because, well….. it felt really “soft”.

Once I recentered on the topic as opposed to how the term had landed on me, we began to expand the discussion to aspects of what it meant and how best to create it. Psychological safety, a concept introduced by organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson, refers to a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. In a psychologically safe environment, team members feel comfortable expressing their ideas, concerns, and mistakes without fear of negative consequences. This environment fosters open communication, mutual respect, and trust, leading to numerous benefits for teams.

Patrick Lencioni, in his influential work on team dynamics, particularly in his book "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," associates psychological safety with a willingness to embrace vulnerability. He defines vulnerability as a fundamental aspect of trust among team members. Vulnerability is about being open and honest about one's weaknesses, mistakes, and the need for help. It involves showing up as your true self, without pretenses, and being willing to take interpersonal risks. This vulnerability encourages a culture where everyone feels safe to speak up encouraging team members to voice their true opinions, concerns, and ideas, leading to richer discussions and better decision-making.

Creating an environment of psychological safety is a crucial responsibility for managers. It involves fostering a culture where team members feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of negative consequences. Here are some practical steps and strategies we discussed that managers can take to cultivate psychological safety within their teams:

Model Vulnerability and Openness

  • Share Personal Experiences: Managers should share their own experiences, including mistakes and learnings, to set an example that imperfection is acceptable and part of growth.

  • Admit Mistakes: Acknowledge your own mistakes openly. This demonstrates that making errors is normal and not penalized.

Encourage Open Communication

  • Ask Open-Ended Questions: Use questions that invite discussion and exploration rather than yes/no answers, promoting deeper engagement and idea sharing.

  • Acknowledge Contributions: Recognize and appreciate when team members share their thoughts, regardless of whether you agree with them.

Build Trust and Respect

  • Actively listen: Go beyond simply hearing words and actively processing and seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind them.

  • Show Empathy: Demonstrate understanding and empathy towards team members' concerns and perspectives. Validate their feelings and experiences.

  • Maintain Confidentiality: Respect the privacy of team members and keep sensitive information confidential to build trust.

  • Be Consistent: Apply rules and policies consistently to all team members to create a sense of fairness and predictability.

Creating a high functioning team doesn’t happen on its own. As a manager/leader, the demands on you are enormous, often creating tension between responsibility to your “work” and that of managing and developing others. As we closed our discussion, the facilitator (Natalie Patton VP HR at SES) referenced  a familiar quote from Maya Angelou that seemed to sum up our responsibility to others as it relates to this: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

For additional information on creating an adaptive environment that fosters innovation empowers individuals, visit our site at or give us a call at 877-689-8256 where we provide Insights that Lead to Innovation.

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