It’s hardly surprising that most people try to avoid mistakes or to cover them up. From an early age, we are taught that things are either done right or wrong and that mistakes are punished. Bad grades in school make our parents angry and frustrated, and in any case, we have to invest more time in unloved subjects to eradicate our own weaknesses. Later, in everyday work, these experiences are rarely reversed: admitting a mistake – as part of a team or in front of a manager – is an immensely stressful experience for most people. The result: as long as we don’t absolutely have to admit to a mistake we behave inconspicuously and try to cover it up. From the perspective of the individual such a behavior makes total sense; from the perspective of an organization, however, it is worrisome and seriously damaging.

To develop and constantly learn as an organization and to be equally attractive to customers and employees on the market it requires a culture that not only tolerates mistakes but welcomes and systematically works on them. Such a culture is characterized by ‘psychological safety’. American psychologist Amy Edmondson describes psychological safety as the mutual understanding among a group that it is safe to take risks as an individual. The members don’t have to be worried about their statements resulting in ridicule, gossip or scathing criticism. Mutual respect and trust in an appreciative approach to what one has to say characterize a ‘psychologically safe’ atmosphere.

In such an atmosphere, giving and receiving feedback is not an unpleasant process to which one feels obliged, but an appreciative confrontation with various topics and a welcome opportunity to develop further together.


  1. Frame work as learning problems. Make it explicit that there is enormous uncertainty ahead and that tackling it will require the skills of all team members.
  2. Acknowledge your own fallibility or uncertainty – “I could overlook something, I need you.”
  3. Culture of discussion: make sure that everybody is allowed to finish making their point. Practice making (obviously) appreciative remarks and make sure that everyone has their say at meetings, e.g. through an introductory round at the beginning.

Psychological safety in practice: lessons learned from the Google research project “Aristotle”

Individual factors such as characteristics and abilities of individuals as well as special team standards barely seem to play a role in team performance. However, one decisive criterion was identified that links all successful teams in the Google study: psychological safety. According to the study, this is the result of balanced talking time and obvious, ostentatious listening.