Psychological Safety: A Key to Unlocking Team Performance

Google’s “Project Aristotle” was groundbreaking research that found the highest performing teams were not simply due to having smarter people on the team, or those with well-known pedigrees or extensive training, but teams that had the highest levels of psychological safety. Simply put, psychological safety refers to the extent to which team members feel comfortable expressing their opinions, asking questions, and making mistakes without fear of retribution or negative consequences. When psychological safety is present, team members feel safe to take risks, share their ideas, and collaborate effectively. This environment can lead to increased innovation, better decision-making, and improved overall performance.

Here are five steps to increase psychological safety on a team:

  • Encourage open communication. This is essential for creating psychological safety. Encourage team members to express their opinions and ideas openly, without fear of judgment or retaliation. Create an environment where everyone’s voice is heard and respected.
  • Model vulnerability. When leaders model vulnerability themselves, it can help create a sense of safety for those on their team. Show that it is okay to make mistakes and admit when you don’t have all the answers. This can help team members feel more comfortable sharing their own vulnerabilities.
  • Foster a culture of trust. Trust, a fundamental aspect of psychological safety, can be fostered by being transparent with your team and following through on commitments. Encourage team members to trust one another and provide opportunities for team bonding activities.
  • Establish clear expectations for behavior and performance. Communicate what is expected of team members and what behaviors will not be tolerated. Ensure that everyone understands the consequences of not meeting expectations. This can help create a sense of safety within the team.
  • Provide feedback and recognition. This can help team members feel valued and supported. Recognize team members for their contributions and provide constructive feedback that focuses on growth and development. Ensure that feedback is delivered in a supportive and constructive manner.

Overall, research by Google and other organizational psychologists have found that teams with high levels of psychological safety are more effective because they have more clarity around their goals, they describe their work as having more meaning, and the work ended up having more impact. Psychological safety is not just a nice-to-have, it is a must-have for high-performing teams.


Jennifer Nguyen, PhD, is a managing partner of CMA, a human capital consultancy that brings expertise in people at work to help organizations thrive. Since 1975, CMA has been serving a diverse range of industries and companies of all sizes. Headquartered in St. Louis and with field offices in Denver and Kansas City, CMA employs 25 consultants with PhDs in psychology and applied social sciences. To learn more about how coaching can support your leadership development initiatives, visit          

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