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Psychological Safety: The History, Renaissance, and Future of an Interpersonal Construct

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Psychological safety describes people's perceptions of the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in a particular context such as a workplace. First explored by pioneering organizational scholars in the 1960s, psychological safety experienced a renaissance starting in the 1990s and continuing to the present. Organizational research has identified psychological safety as a critical factor in understanding phenomena such as voice, teamwork, team learning, and organizational learning. A growing body of conceptual and empirical work has focused on understanding the nature of psychological safety, identifying factors that contribute to it, and examining its implications for individuals, teams, and organizations. In this article, we review and integrate this literature and suggest directions for future research. We first briefly review the early history of psychological safety research and then examine contemporary research at the individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis. We assess what has been learned and discuss suggestions for future theoretical development and methodological approaches for organizational behavior research on this important interpersonal construct.
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Psychological Safety: The
History, Renaissance, and
Future of an Interpersonal
Construct
Amy C. Edmondson
1
and Zhike Lei
2
1
Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts 02163; email: aedmondson@hbs.edu
2
European School of Management and Technology (ESMT), 10178 Berlin, Germany
Annu. Rev. Organ. Psychol. Organ. Behav. 2014.
1:2343
First published online as a Review in Advance on
January 10, 2014
The Annual Review of Organizational Psychology
and Organizational Behavior is online at
orgpsych.annualreviews.org
This articles doi:
10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091305
Copyright ©2014 by Annual Reviews.
All rights reserved
Keywords
organizational learning, teams, team learning
Abstract
Psychological safety describes peoples perceptions of the conse-
quences of taking interpersonal risks in a particular context such as
a workplace. First explored by pioneering organizational scholars
in the 1960s, psychological safety experienced a renaissance starting
in the 1990s and continuing to the present. Organizational research
has identified psychological safety as a critical factor in understanding
phenomena such as voice, teamwork, team learning, and organiza-
tional learning. A growing body of conceptual and empirical work has
focused on understanding the nature of psychological safety, identi-
fying factors that contribute to it, and examining its implications for
individuals, teams, and organizations. In this article, we review and
integrate this literature and suggest directions for future research. We
first briefly review the early history of psychological safety research
and then examine contemporary research at the individual, group,
and organizational levels of analysis. We assess what has been learned
and discuss suggestions for future theoretical development and meth-
odological approaches for organizational behavior research on this
important interpersonal construct.
23
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ANNUAL
REVIEWS
INTRODUCTION
In todays business environment, much work in organizations is accomplished collaboratively.
Narrow expertise and complex work require people to work together across disciplinary and other
boundaries to accomplish organizational goals. Product design, patient care, strategy de-
velopment, pharmaceutical research, and rescue operations are just a few examples of activities
that call for collaborative work. Organizational research has identified psychological safety as
an important factor in understanding how people collaborate to achieve a shared outcome
(Edmondson 1999, 2004), thus making it a critical concept for further research.
Psychological safety describes perceptions of the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in
a particular context such as a workplace (e.g., Edmondson 1999). A central theme in research on
psychological safetyacross decades and levels of analysisis that it facilitates the willing
contribution of ideas and actions to a shared enterprise. For example, psychological safety helps to
explain why employees share information and knowledge (Collins & Smith 2006, Siemsen et al.
2009), speak up with suggestions for organizational improvements (Detert & Burris 2007, Liang
et al. 2012), and take initiative to develop new products and services (Baer & Frese 2003). As we
describe below, extensive research suggests that psychological safety enables teams and organi-
zations to learn (Bunderson & Boumgarden 2010, Carmeli 2007, Carmeli & Gittell 2009,
Edmondson 1999, Tucker et al. 2007) and perform (Carmeli et al. 2012, Collins & Smith 2006,
Schaubroeck et al. 2011).
First explored by pioneering organizational scholars in the 1960s, psychological safety re-
search languished for years but experienced renewed interest starting in the 1990s and continuing
to the present. We propose that psychological safety has become a theoretically and practically
significant phenomenon in recent years in part because of the enhanced importance of learning and
innovation in todays organizations. Psychological safety is fundamentally about reducing in-
terpersonal risk, which necessarily accompanies uncertainty and change (Schein & Bennis 1965).
Reflecting this premise, a rapidly growing body of conceptual and empirical research has focused
on understanding the nature of psychological safety, identifying factors that contribute to this
interpersonal construct, and examining its implications for employees, teams, and organizations.
The aim of this article is first to review this literature and then to outline the implications of the
findings, including controversies and unanswered questions, as well as directions for future research.
From a practical perspective, psychological safety is a timely topic given the growth of
knowledge economies and the rise of teamwork. Both of these trends have given rise to new
work relationships in which employees are expected to integrate perspectives, share information
and ideas, and collaborate to achieve shared goals.
Our article unfolds as follows. We begin by briefly reviewing the early history of psychological
safety research and then describe our search methods. Next, we identify and examine contem-
porary research at the individual, organizational, and group levels of analysis; assess what has
been learned from this body of work; and devote particular attention to controversies and gaps
in the literature. Then we identify unanswered questions and new directions to be explored in
future research. Finally, we briefly suggest managerial implications of this body of research and
conclude with the hope that our article will motivate other scholars to pursue new lines of inquiry
to advance knowledge about creating and managing psychological safety at work.
HISTORY
In the organizational research literature, the construct of psychological safety finds its roots in
early discussions of what it takes to produce organizational change. In 1965, MIT professors
Edgar Schein and Warren Bennis argued that psychological safety was essential for making people
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feel secure and capable of changing their behavior in response to shifting organizational chal-
lenges. Schein (1993) later argued that psychological safety helps people overcome the defen-
siveness, or learning anxiety, that occurs when they are presented with data that contradict their
expectations or hopes. With psychological safety, he reasoned, individuals are free to focus on
collective goals and problem prevention rather than on self-protection.
Since that time, several other researchers have explored psychological safety in work settings.
In an influential paper, William Kahn (1990) rejuvenated research on psychological safety with
thoughtful qualitative studies of summer camp counselors and members of an architecture firm
that showed how psychological safety enables personal engagement at work. He proposed that
psychological safety affects individualswillingness to employ or express themselves physically,
cognitively, and emotionally during role performances,rather than disengage or withdraw and
defend their personal selves(p. 694). Further, Kahn argued that people are more likely to believe
they will be given the benefit of the doubta defining characteristic of psychological safetywhen
relationships within a given group are characterized by trust and respect. Using descriptive
statistics from summer camp counselors and members of an architecture firm, he also showed a
quantitative relationship between personal engagement and psychological safety in both contexts.
METHODS
We identified theoretical and empirical papers for our review through several approaches, in-
cluding keyword searches in databases (e.g., Business Source Complete, ISI Web of Science, and
PsycInfo) and manually checking our reference list against recent meta-analyses (B. Sanner &
B. Bunderson, unpublished manuscript) and review articles (e.g., Edmondson 2004, Edmondson
et al. 2007). Given the breadth of topics related to psychological safety, including those covered
extensively in literatures on interpersonal trust, organizational climate, and team learning, we
chose to limit our focus to articles that explicitly used the terms psychological safety or psycho-
logical safety climate. Considering the target audience and space constraints, we included articles
published in leading management-research journals, a few current unpublished studies that came
to our attention, and one study from an edited volume owing to its unusually comprehensive data
set. We emphasizedempirical studiesthose that analyzed quantitative or qualitative datacollected
in different settings (e.g., field, classroom, or laboratory)and we describe methods and findings
in sufficient detail to allow readers to critically evaluate a studys conclusions. We acknowledge
that we may have overlooked articles that qualified for inclusion in our review; moreover, we
necessarily confronted trade-offs between completeness and depth of coverage of each study.
Our review organizes research on psychological safety into three streams, based on level of
analysis. First, we begin with studies that conceptualize psychological safety as an individual-level
phenomenon, with data on experiences and outcomes attributable to individuals. Second, we
describe research on psychological safety conceptualized as an organizational-level phenomenon
and measured as an average of interpersonal-climate experiences within an organization. Third,
we review work that conceptualizes and measures psychological safety at the group level of
analysis, which is the largest and most active of the three streams.
PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY AT THREE LEVELS OF ANALYSIS
Individual-Level Research
In general, this work studies relationships between individual experiences of psychological safety
and outcomes including job engagement, organizational commitment, quality internal auditing,
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learning from failure, and creative work involvement. A summary of these relationships is depicted
in Figure 1. Some studies examine employee adherence to expected (or in-role) behaviors, con-
ceptualizing employees as reactive respondents to managerial actions, rewards, or other orga-
nizational factors. Others give employees a more active, agentic role, examining relationships
between psychological safety and discretionary improvement behaviors including speaking up
(e.g., Detert & Burris 2007).
In-role behavior. This research examines relationships between individualsperceived psycho-
logical safety and engagement in their work. Kahn (1990) effectively launched this stream with
his qualitative studies, noted above, of conditions enabling people to personally engage or dis-
engage at work. More recently, Kark & Carmeli (2009) examined the affective components
of psychological safety and argued that psychological safety induces feelings of vitality, which
impact an individuals involvement in creative work. Their sample included 128 employed adults
who were part-time graduate students at a large university in Israel and were asked to complete
two surveys, a week apart. Psychological safety predicted involvement in creative work, and the
relationship was partially mediated by vitality.
Gong et al. (2012) studied relationships among psychological safety, individual creativity,
employee proactivity, and information exchange. They proposed that proactive employees seek
information in exchanges with others; information exchange, in turn, fosters trusting relation-
ships that provide psychological safety for employee creative endeavors. Data from 190 matched
employeemanager pairs in a Taiwanese retail chain, collected in three time-lagged waves, sup-
ported the argument that proactive employees engage in more information exchange and that
the relationship between information exchange and creativity is fully mediated by trust. Note that
this study drew from the psychological safety literature to motivate its hypotheses related to trust
and employee creativity, but it did not measure psychological safety directly.
Siemsen et al. (2009) examined the effects of psychological safety on knowledge sharing among
coworkers in both manufacturing and service operations. Siemsen and his coauthors investigated
whether psychological safety motivated employees to share knowledge, and argued that the level
of confidence individuals have in the knowledge to be shared would moderate this relationship.
Their results, obtained from survey data collected in four companies, showed that greater con-
fidence indeed reduced the strength of the relationship between psychological safety and knowledge
Leadership
behaviors
Implicit voice
theories
Psychological
safety
Trust
Proactive
behavior
Condence
Voice, engagement,
knowledge sharing Creativity
Figure 1
Relationships examined in individual-level research on psychological safety.
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sharing. This thoughtful study suggests a need for further research on the boundary conditions of
psychological safetys effects, a theme we revisit later in this article.
Speaking up and voice. Whereas the studies discussed above focused on employee performance in
expected behaviors for their roles, a growing stream of research examines psychological safetys
relationship to extra-role behaviors such as speaking up. Speaking up, or voice, is defined as
upward-directed, promotive verbal communication (Premeaux & Bedeian 2003, Van Dyne &
LePine 1998). Challenging the status quo and offering ideas to improve process can be a vital force
in helping organizations learn. However, considerable research has shown that individuals often
do not work in environments where they feel safe to speak up (Detert & Edmondson 2011,
Milliken et al. 2003, Ryan & Oestreich 1998). A number of studies therefore examine proactive
behavior, especially that related to challenging the status quo or improving organizational
functioning (see Grant & Ashford 2008 for a review).
Several studies, spanning multiple industries, have found that psychological safety medi-
ates between antecedent variables and employee voice behavior (e.g., Ashford et al. 1998,
Miceli & Near 1992). For example, Detert & Burris (2007) investigated two types of change-
oriented leadershiptransformational leadership and managerial opennessas antecedents of
improvement-oriented voice. Analyzing data from 3,149 employees and 223 managers in a
restaurant chain in the United States, they found that subordinate perceptions of psychological
safety mediated the leadershipvoice relationship. Similarly, Walumbwa & Schaubroeck (2009)
used a multilevel model in a study of 894 employees and their 222 immediate supervisors in a
major US financial institution and found that ethical leadership influenced follower voice behavior,
a relationship that was partially mediated by followersperceptions of psychological safety.
Other recent research focuses on psychological mechanisms that encourage or inhibit
improvement-oriented voice. For example, Liang et al. (2012) identified two types of voice: First,
promotive voice is the expression of ways to improve work practices and procedures to benefit
an organization (Van Dyne & LePine 1998). Second, prohibitive voice describes employee ex-
pressions of concern about existing or impending practices, incidents, or behaviors that may harm
their organizations. Liang and colleagues (2012) examined psychological safety, felt obligation
for constructive change, and organization-based self-esteem as three unique, interacting variables
to predict supervisory reports of promotive and prohibitive voice. Using data from a sample of
239 Chinese retail employees in a two-wave panel design, the researchers found psychological
safety to be strongly related to prohibitive voice. Further, although felt obligation strengthened
the positive effect of psychological safety on both forms of voice, organization-based self-esteem
weakened the effect for promotive voice. The study thus pointed to a promising avenue for future
research in exploring differing antecedents and interpersonal consequences associated with voice.
In a similar vein, Burris et al. (2008) examined attachment and detachment as psychological
mechanisms that influence improvement-oriented voice, in a study of 499 managers in a US
restaurant chain. Leadership antecedents and psychological attachment variables were the central
focus of this study; psychological safety was included as a control variable. Nonetheless, the results
showed a direct positive effect of psychological safety on voice.
Through a series of studies designed to shed light on lack of employee voice, Detert &
Edmondson (2011) argued that implicit theories about voicespecific beliefs about when and why
speaking up at work is riskyexplain significant variance in speaking-up behavior. They tested
the effects of five implicit voice theories (IVTs) in four sequential studies. In general, psychological
safety was negatively correlated with the strength of IVTs. The authors proposed that IVTs
supplement psychological safety in explaining variance in voice behavior. The fourth study in
the series used survey data from several hundred adults with diverse work experiences to test
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relationships between psychological safety and individual voice. The results supported the ar-
gument that psychological safety supplements, but does not mediate, the independent significant
effects of IVTs on employee voice. Detert and Edmondson concluded that, in addition to con-
textual effects such as psychological safety, IVTs about speaking up (derived from socially
reinforced motives of self-protection in hierarchies) exert an independent effect on voice behavior
(e.g., Edmondson 1999).
Organizational-Level Research
Research in this stream identifies relationships between psychological safety, commitment-based
human resources (HR) practices, social capital, high-quality relationships, climate for initiative,
and firm performance, each measured at the organizational level of analysis. In general, measures
are derived from the average of survey responses from multiple people working in each of
a number of firms in the study. In some studies, psychological safety serves as a mediator, and in
others as a moderator of relationships between organizational antecedents and outcomes. We
organize this section according to the two main outcome variables in this stream: performance and
learning.
Organizational performance. Collins & Smith (2006) tested a model predicting that commit-
ment-based HR practices lead to a social climate of trust, which supports knowledge exchange
and combination and, ultimately, promotes better firm performance. The authors argued that
HR practices and high-investment employeremployee relationships motivate employees
and provide the flexibility needed to have innovative and dynamic work environments. Their
10-month longitudinal field study included data from HR managers, core knowledge workers,
and CEOs in 136 high-technology companies; they measured commitment-based HR practices,
social climate, cooperation, shared codes and language, and knowledge exchange using surveys
and assessed firm per formance with a measure combining revenue and sales growt h. The findings
suggest that climates of trust, cooperation, and shared codes were all significantly related to firm
performance, and these relationships were partially mediated by the level of exchanges and
combination of ideas and knowledge among knowledge workers. Note that this study measured
social climate of trustrather than the highly similar construct of psychological safety, which
comprises an interpersonal climate of trust and respect.
In a survey study of 165 employees from 47 midsized German companies, Baer & Frese (2003)
linked psychological safety to firm performance, with process innovations as a mediating variable.
They measured process innovations, climate for initiative, psychological safety, and firm per-
formance. Both climates for initiative and for psychological safety positively correlated with firm
performance, moderating the relationship between process innovations and firm performance.
Organizational learning. Other studies examine relationships between psychological safety and
outcomes related to organizational learning. These include firm-level behavioral tendencies
ranging from critical thinking to encountering problems, preoccupation with failures, and error
management, all of which can be argued to enable company dynamism and competitive advan-
tage. For example, Carmeli et al. (2009) studied the association between learning from failure,
psychological safety, and high-quality work relationships by conducting survey research on 212
part-time students in a variety of industries (e.g., electronics, energy). The survey measured
learning behaviors, psychological safety, and five components of high-quality relationships:
emotional carrying capacity, tensility, connectivity, positive regard, and mutuality. Each com-
ponent of high-quality relationships was correlated with psychological safety, which mediated the
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outcome of learning behaviors, providing further support that positive subjective experiences of
work relationships are key to psychological safety and thus to organizational learning.
Carmeli (2007) and Carmeli & Gittell (2009) focused more narrowly on psychological safety
and learning from failure. Carmeli & Gittell (2009) tested a model predicting that high-quality
relationships give rise to psychological safety, which in turn would predict failure-based learning.
The authors used a survey to measure failure-based learning behaviors, psychological safety,
and high-quality relationships among two populations: (a) employees of three organizations in
software, electronics, and financial industries in Israel and (b) graduate students with jobs in
banking, insurance, telecommunications, electronics, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, and
medical equipment. The study results supported the model, showing that psychological safety
mediated the relationship between failure-based learning and high-quality relationships. Carmeli
(2007) studied organization-level psychological safety; external, internal, and neutral social
capital; and failure-based learning. External social capital was defined as specific relationships an
employee sustains with others, whereas internal social capital involves the relationships among
employees within a network, and neutral social capital integrates the two. He assessed these three
variables by surveying 137 members of 33 organizations in Israel in both industrial and gov-
ernment sectors. Both internal and external social capital were positively associated with psy-
chological safety, which therefore enabled failure-based learning.
One organization-level study examined psychological safetys implications for culture change:
Cataldo et al. (2009) related organizational context and psychological safety to organizational
change, arguing that autonomy and structure must be balanced during a change process to enable
flexibility while maintaining employee cohesion. Their single-case study analyzed data from con-
versations, interviews, and archives from a large financial services firm implementing cultural change
related to career development. The findings suggest that employees must feel their psychological
status is assured throughout change processes for changes to take hold. Figure 2 summarizes the
relationships described in this stream.
Group-Level Research
Next, we review research at the group level of analysis, which includes studies of direct, mediating,
and moderating roles for psychological safety in team learning, innovation, and performance (see
Figure 3). The study of psychological safety at the group level of analysis originated with research
by Edmondson (1996, 1999), which found significant differences in the interpersonal climate of
psychological safety between groups within the same organizations. Even within strong shared
Organizational
learning
Organizational
performance
Knowledge
exchange/
combination
Psychological safety (and climate
of trust/climate of initiative)
Commitment-based
HR practices
High-quality
relationships,
social capital
Process
innovations
Figure 2
Relationships examined in organizational-level research on psychological safety. Abbreviation: HR, human resources.
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organizational cultures, the groups studied varied significantly in beliefs related to interpersonal
risk (Edmondson 2002, 2003). These findings suggest that psychological safety is essentially
a group-level phenomenon. Some of this variance can be attributed to local manager or supervisor
behaviors, which convey varying messages about the consequences of taking the interpersonal
risks associated with behaviors such as admitting error, asking for help, or speaking up with ideas
(e.g., see Edmondson 1996, 2002, 2003).
Psychological safety as an antecedent. At the group level, psychological safety has been shown
to correlate with performance, with team learning behaviors usually mediating the relationship
(e.g., see Edmondson 1999, a multimethod study discussed below in our review of research
presenting psychological safety as a mediator). Four recent studies have explored psychological
safetys effects on learning practices in teams. Huang et al. (2008) proposed a model in which
psychological safety leads to team performance through team learning. These researchers sur-
veyed 100 members of 60 research and development (R&D) teams of the Industrial Technology
Research Institute in Taiwan, measuring psychological safety, team learning, and team perfor-
mance. Their findings suggest that psychological safety promotes team performance, with team
learning mediating the relationship. They also support the conclusion that the ability to com-
municate openly through experimentation, discussion, and decision making is a determinant of
successful team performance.
Tucker et al. (2007) examined psychological safety as a predictor of best practice imple-
mentation, examining two types of learning as mediators: learning what and learning how. They
studied 23 neonatal intensive care units in 23 hospitals, each seeking to implement improved
Psychological
safety
Innovation/
change processes
Organizational
context
Team
characteristics
Team
leadership
Trust
Learning Decision
quality
Performance
Problem-solving
ecacy, task conict,
social interaction
Task uncertainty,
resource scarcity
Information sharing,
conict frequency
Interdependence,
virtuality, diversity,
task conict
Team eort, monitoring,
problem solving
Figure 3
Relationships examined in group-level research on psychological safety.
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patient-care practices. Methods included observations, interviews, and surveys. The survey
measured psychological safety, perceived implementation success, level of evidence, and learning
activities (learn-what and learn-how) and further inquired about the details of specific projects.
The results showed that psychological safety was associated with learn-how, which mediated
a relationship between psychological safety and implementation success. In short, psychological
safety enabled learning, experimenting, and new practice production. Subsequent research found
that those intensive care units with more extensive learning behaviors had lower risk-adjusted
mortality rates after two and three years of observation (Nembhard & Tucker 2011).
Choo et al. (2007) studied two suggested pathways through which psychological safety might
influence learning and knowledge creation, and therefore performance. Using a web-based ques-
tionnaire distributed to 951 team members and total quality management (TQM) so-called
black beltspecialists in 206 projects in a manufacturing firm, the researchers found that
psychological safety influenced knowledge created but not learning behaviors, in turn affecting
quality improvement. In sum, a psychologically safe environment enables divergent thinking,
creativity, and risk taking and motivates engagement in exploratory and exploitative learning,
thereby promoting team performance.
A few studies investigated how psychological safety interacts with other predictors of per-
formance. Tucker (2007) studied the prevention of operational failure, predicting that psycho-
logical safety, problem solving, and felt responsibility influence frontline system improvement.
She surveyed 37 employees from 14 hospital nursing units to measure psychological safety, system
improvement, problem-solving efficacy, felt responsibility, and number of operational failures
on the prior work shift. In this study, operational failures, such as missing equipment or in-
formation, were surprisingly common, and both psychological safety and problem-solving effi-
cacy were associated with improvement behaviors aimed at reducing such failures. In contrast
to predicted results, felt responsibility was negatively associated with frontline system im-
provement. Mu & Gnyawali (2003) similarly studied enablers of team effectiveness, measured
as a function of effective communication and the development of knowledge and skills. They
examined psychological safety, task conflict, and social interactions as antecedents; the outcomes
were synergistic knowledge development and perceived group performance. The study involved
132 senior-level undergraduate business students in a business policy and strategy course in an
eastern US school, who completed two group tasks: (a) in-depth analysis and presentation of
a business case and (b) a critique of the analysis (conducted by another group). Survey results
showed that task conflict negatively affected synergistic knowledge development and that psy-
chological safety moderated these negative effects. That is, when psychological safety was higher,
student perceptions of group performance were greater, mitigating the negative effects of conflict
on performance. Mu and Gnyawali drew from these results to propose that psychological safety
helps students to manage team assignments effectively.
Finally, we include a few recent studies of trust and cooperation as predictors of team learning
and effectiveness that explicitly cited and built on psychological safetyand research. For example,
Tjosvold et al. (2004) studied group learning, cooperation, and problem solving, in a survey of
107 teams from multiple organizations in China. The findings suggest that cooperation within
a team promotes a problem-solving orientation, which in turn allows team members and leaders
to discuss errors and learn from mistakes. Other related studies investigated climate of trust or
interpersonal trust at the group level and found a similar pattern. Although these studies did not
use the term psychological safety, the psychological mechanisms underlying the effects of a climate
of trust on team learning are likely similar to those proposed for psychological safety. Butler
(1999), for example, examined expectations, climate of trust, information exchange, and ne-
gotiation effectiveness and efficiency in a survey study of 108 triads (groups of three) comprising
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324 practicing managers enrolled in 14 sections of a course in organizational behavior at a uni-
versity in the southeastern United States. The results showed that information sharing partially
mediated a relationship between expectations of trust and climate of trust. Additionally, as trust
increased, inefficiency (an outcome) decreased. Climate of trust and information quantity both
contributed to negotiating effectiveness. De Jong & Elfring (2010) similarly focused on how trust
influences team performance, with a web-based survey measuring trust, team effort, team mon-
itoring, team reflexivity, team effectiveness, and team efficiency from 565 members of 73 teams.
The teams were in a tax department of a consultancy firm in the Netherlands. The results showed
that trust positively influenced team effort and team monitoring, leading to team effectiveness.
Psychological safety as a mediator. Numerous studies view psychological safety as a mediator of
relationships between antecedents, including organizational context, team characteristics, and
team leadership, and outcomes of innovation, performance, learning, and improvement in or by
a team (e.g.,Edmondson 1999). One recent study suggested a more complex picture: Faraj & Yan
(2009) proposed that boundary work (boundary spanning, boundary buffering, and boundary
reinforcement) predicts psychological safety, which promotes better performance, with the re-
lationship between psychological safety and performance moderated by task uncertainty and
resource scarcity. They measured team performance, boundary work, task uncertainty, resource
scarcity, and psychological safety using a survey of 290 individuals in 64 software development
teams. The results showed that boundary work was positively linked to team psychological safety,
and task uncertainty and resource scarcity indeed both moderated this effect. The relationship
between boundary work and team psychological safety was positive only under conditions of
high task uncertainty and resource scarcity.
Other studies clearly show psychological safety as a mediator between antecedent conditions
and outcomes. Team structural features often serve as antecedents of psychological safetys me-
diating role. Edmondson (1999) proposed a model of team learning in which supportive team
structures enable psychological safety, leading to team learning behaviors and team performance.
She conducted a multimethod field study of 51 work teams and 496 individuals in a manufac-
turing company, involving three phases of data collection, including interviews, observations,
and surveys, to assess organizational context support, psychological safety, learning, and per-
formance, all at the team level of analysis. The results support the idea that psychological safety
mediates between organizational factors and team learning. Further, team learning was associated
with team performance, assessed both through team member self-reports and manager and
customer ratings. A later qualitative study elaborated the interpersonal processes through which
psychological safety enables learning behaviors involving both reflection and action in teams with
tasks ranging from strategy formulation to sales to product manufacturing (Edmondson 2002).
Nembhard & Edmondson (2006) used survey data to show that role-based status in health-care
teams was positively associated with psychological safety, which in turn predicted involvement
in learning and quality improvement activities in 23 intensive care units. They further showed
that leadership inclusiveness (on the part of ICU leaders) moderated (reduced) the effect of status
on psychological safety.
Several recent studies build on these findings. Bunderson & Boumgarden (2010) surveyed 11
production teams along with shift supervisors and engineers from a Fortune 100 high-technology
firm and found a significant relationship between team structure and team learning, with psycho-
logical safety mediating the relationship. Information sharing and conflict frequency also mediated
the significant relationship between psychological safety and learning. Bresman & Zellmer-Bruhn
(2012) hypothesized organizational and team structure as an enabler of team learning. They ob-
tained data from 62 self-managed team members and managers in 13 pharmaceutical R&D
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units using interviews and surveys to assess internal and external learning, team structure, or-
ganizational structure, task autonomy, and psychological safety. As predicted, team structure
encouraged internal and external team learning behavior by promoting psychological safety; team
structure also moderated the relationship between organizational structure and autonomy, when
enabling learning.
Chandrasekaran & Mishra (2012) explored psychological safety and team autonomy as
antecedents of team performance. They conducted a web-based survey of 34 R&D groups in 28
high-technology organizations, inviting project leaders and team members to assess project
performance, team turnover, psychological safety, team autonomy, relative exploration, ex-
ploitation, and project-organization metric alignment. Project-organization metric alignment
referred to the alignment of a projects measures to broader organizational goals and measures.
The results showed that greater team autonomy was associated with greater psychological safety,
when relative exploration (defined as the extent to which exploration goals were emphasized over
exploitation goals in a project) and project-organization metric alignment were both low. Most
notably, an increase in psychological safety lowered team turnover and improved performance in
the R&D groups.
In addition to analyzing organizational and team characteristics, some studies investigate
leadership as an important antecedent of trust or psychological safetys mediating effects on
learning or performance. For example, Carmeli et al. (2012) proposed that relational leadership
improves decision quality, with psychological safety and learning from failures as mediators.
They surveyed 237 members of top management teams in Israel from multiple industry sectors,
measuring trust, learning from failure, strategic-decision quality, and relational leadership. The
findings showed that trust mediated a relationship between CEO relational leadership and team
learning from failures. Additionally, learning from failures mediated the relationship between
trust and decision quality.
Hirak et al. (2012) investigated leader inclusiveness, psychological safety, and employee
learning from failures. Data from three surveys of 55 unit leaders and 224 unit members at a large
hospital showed that leader inclusiveness enabled performance, with psychological safety me-
diating the relationship. Psychological safety also promoted learning from failures, which in turn
predicted unit performance. A similar study by Schaubroeck et al. (2011) found that leader
behavior influenced trust, leading to potency, psychological safety, and team performance. This
study involved 191 employees of Hong Kong and US financial services companies, including
bank tellers, relationship managers, salespersons, and loan managers who responded to a survey
measuring affect-based trust, cognition-based trust, team potency, psychological safety, trans-
formational leadership, servant leadership, and team performance. The findings suggest that
servant leadership influences affect-based trust, which gives rise to psychological safety, and that
transformational leadership influences cognition-based trust, leading to team potency. Each
pathway also had indirect effects on the other, and each contributed to team performance.
Edmondson et al. (2001) proposed a process model for helping teams learn new routines that
alter the interpersonal dynamics in the team. Their qualitative field study included semistructured
interviews of 165 operating room team members in 16 hospitals implementing a new minimally
invasive cardiac surgery technology, along with patient-level clinical data. The study is unusual in
assessing psychological safety through coding of qualitative data, rather than through surveys.
Interviewees were asked about their behaviors in real and hypothetical operating room situations,
and the researchers ascertained the levels of psychological safety from these responses. Imple-
mentation success (determined by the number of new cases conducted, the percentage of cardiac
operations in the department using the new approach during the study period, and the trend
toward increased, versus decreased, use of the new approach) was associated with a leadership
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approach that motivated team members to fully engage in the learning process and to conduct
thoughtful practice sessions and early trials to build psychological safety and encourage sharing
of insights and concerns through reflection. The authors proposed that psychological safety is
important in establishing new routines, particularly those that disrupt status relationships, as may
occur in new technology implementation.
Finally, Roussin (2008) investigated effects of leadership, quality of relationships, and a
psychologically safe environment on team-performance improvement. Using comparative case-
based analysis involving interviews of members of the corporate HR team at a media and
publishing company and members of an urban-music rock band, Roussin argued that leadersuse
of what he called dyadic discovery methods(exploratory discussion sessions among team
members and leaders) promoted trust, psychological safety, and team performance (p. 225).
Psychological safety as an outcome. Edmondson & Mogelof (2005) investigated antecedents of
psychological safety at three levels of analysis (organizational resources, team member and leader
interactions, team goal clarity, and personality differences) with an unusually comprehensive data set.
With longitudinal survey data collected from 26 innovation teams in seven companies, the authors
found that psychological safety differed significantly across teams within the same organization and
also differed across organizations. The only personality variable associated with psychological safety
was neuroticism; individuals with higher neuroticism reported lower psychological safety.
Psychological safety as a moderator. As described above, psychological safety has frequently
been conceptualized in the literature as having a main or mediating effect in explaining team
outcomes; yet, the construct may turn out to play a more important role as a moderator
(B. Sanner & B. Bunderson, unpublished manuscript). First, recent studies show mixed support
for the effects of psychological safety on team learning and innovation, suggesting the need for
attention to potential boundary conditions of these relationships (Edmondson 2004). Psycho-
logical safety may moderate relationships between antecedents such as goal clarity or need for
learning, and learning or performance outcomes (Burke et al. 2006, Edmondson 2004; B. Sanner &
B. Bunderson, unpublished manuscript). Second, recent research emphasizes the moderation effects
of psychological safety (e.g., Bradley et al. 2012, Caruso & Woolley 2008, Gibson & Gibbs 2006,
Kirkman et al. 2013, Leroy et al. 2012). This work investigates how psychological safety moderates
the relationship between (a)teamdiversityand(b) team innovation and performance, by
making it easier for teams to leverage the benefits of diversity through more open conversations
and more respectful, engaged interactions. Caruso & Woolley (2008), for example, developed
a conceptual model outlining how structural interdependence and emergent interdependence
influence collaboration and effective performance, emphasizing psychological safety as a climate
conducive to recognizing and utilizing interdependence within the team.
In two studies investigating virtuality in geographically dispersed teams, Gibson & Gibbs
(2006) examined the role of a psychologically safe communication climate in teams with geo-
graphic dispersion, electronic dependence, dynamic structure, and national diversity. They con-
ducted interviews with 177 members of 14 teams from different organizations, functional areas,
industries, and nations; their qualitative analysis of these data revealed negative main effects of
geographic dispersion, electronic dependence, and national diversity on innovation and showed
that a psychologically safe communication climate can mitigate these negative effects. Gibson
and Gibbs then tested their hypotheses in a follow-up online survey with 266 individuals in
56 engineering project teams designing state-of-the-art military aircraft. Results confirmed the
negative main effects of the four virtuality dimensions on team innovation and the moderating
effects of psychological safety with respect to these negative relationships.
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Martins et al. (2013) examined moderating roles of team psychological safety and of re-
lationship conflict to explain the conflicting effects of two forms of cognitive diversityexpertise
diversity (akin to breadth of expertise) and expertness diversity (akin to depth of expertise)on
team performance. Analysis of survey data collected from 736 students in 196 teams in an in-
formation technology course at a large French university showed that, when team psychological
safety was low, the relationship between expertise diversity and team performance was negative,
suggesting a harmful effect of lower psychological safety with high expertise diversity. By contrast,
the relationship between expertness diversity and team performance was positive when team
psychological safety was high. The researchers proposed that psychological safety might have
different effects depending on the type of diversity or the nature of the task.
Interested in exploring contingency factors that might alter the strength of the relationship between
national diversity and performance for groups called organizational communities of practice
(OCoPs), Kirkman and colleagues (2013) investigated psychological safety and communication
media richness. The authors collected survey data from over 200 members of 30 global OCoPs in
a Fortune 100 multinational mining and minerals processing firm with over 300 facilities in 44
countries that had implemented formal global OCoPs. The results showed a curvilinear relationship
betweennationaldiversityandOCoPperformance, which was moderated by psychological safety
and use of rich communication media. Psychological safety strengthened the positive relationship
between nationality diversity and performance for OCoPs with higher national diversity but
weakened the negative relationship between the two variables at lower levels of diversity.
Leroy and colleagues (2012) investigated the challenge of leaders enforcing safety protocols
while encouraging employee error reporting. They used a two-stage survey study with 54 nursing
teams consisting of 580 individuals in four Belgian hospitals. Their analysis suggested that a team
priority of safety and team psychological safety both mediated the relationship between reported
treatment errors and leader behavioral integrity related to safety. The relationship between
team priority of safety and number of errors was stronger for higher levels of team psychological
safety, suggesting that adherence to safety procedures reflect a genuine concern for safety, when
employees feel safe to speak up about errors.
Using undergraduate student teams at a Midwestern university in the United States, Bradley
et al. (2012) examined team psychological safety as a condition under which task conflict will
improve team performance. The researchers collected survey data from 561 undergraduate
students randomly assigned to 117 five-person teams, measuring psychological safety, task
conflicts, and team performance. Analysis showed that a climate of psychological safety helps
exploit task conflict to improve team performance, enabling creative ideas and critical discussion,
without embarrassment or excessive personal conflict between team members. Together, these
studies emphasize the enabling effects of psychological safety on learning, innovation, and
performance and strongly support the need to develop a better understanding of the moderating
role played by psychological safety in teams.
Boundary conditions of psychological safety. The studies of psychological safety as a moderator
in explaining team learning and performance suggest potential boundary conditions for when
psychological safety is particularly helpful. For example, Edmondson (2004) suggested that
psychological safety may vary based on team contextual characteristics such as size, virtuality, and
complexity. Moreover, psychological safety may not help teams learn when certain conditions
supporting teamwork, such as task interdependence, are missing. A particularly systematic review
examined conditions that enable or hinder psychological safetys positive effects in a meta-analysis
of 39 studies (36 papers) that quantitatively measured psychological safety, team learning, and
performance, involving 14,139 people on 2,915 teams (B. Sanner & B. Bunderson, unpublished
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manuscript). The authors found that, whereas the relationship between psychological safety and
learning was mostly positive in the literature (consistent with a main-effects model), the magnitude
of that relationship varied across studies. Moreover, the direct relationship between safety and
learning and the indirect relationship between safety and performance (mediated by learning) were
stronger in studies conducted in environments that more strongly motivated learning. Kostopoulos &
Bozionelos (2011) studied two kinds of learning behaviorsexploration and exploitationto
support a model in which task conflict moderates the relationship between (a) psychological safety
and (b) team learning and team performance. They surveyed over 600 members of 142 innovation
project teams in the information technology and pharmaceutical sectors. The results showed that
psychological safety promoted exploratory and exploitative learning and team performance, an
effect that was enhanced by task conflict.
As this recent work emphasizes, psychological safety alone may not lead to team learning and
performance but rather requires the presence of conditions that call for learning and communi-
cation. Figure 3 summarizes the key findings in the group-level stream.
DISCUSSION
In this section, we reflect on the implications of our review of the psychological safety literature,
highlighting both cumulative knowledge and opportunities for further research. In particular, we
identify dominant consistent relationships in the empirical research, especially those that tran-
scend levels of analysis; discuss limitations of the current literature; and propose directions for
future research.
Consistent Relationships Across Studies
Psychological safety has been a topic of considerable interest and activity over the past two decades
in the fields of management, organizational behavior, social psychology, and health-care man-
agement. Evidence from empirical studies conducted in diverse organizational and industrial
contexts, across multiple countries and regions (e.g., the United States, Israel, Taiwan), supports
the idea that psychological safety matters greatly for workplace effectiveness, and suggests
a surprising level of generalizability of the research findings. Overall, our review of this work has
given rise to at least three key insights.
First, in the numerous studies that have investigated the relationship, psychological safety has
consistently been shown to play a role in enabling performance. We note that this relationship
between psychological safety and effective performance is theoretically logical, particularly when
there is uncertainty and a need for either creativity or collaboration to accomplish the work.
Without elements of uncertainty or collaboration, the need to confront and overcome inter-
personal risk is simply less salient, and thus the presence of psychological safety should have less
theoretical weight. This logic leads naturally to our second insight.
Second, psychological safety is particularly relevant for understanding organizational learn-
inga statement that holds true across levels of analysis (individual, group, and organization),
as elaborated below. Much learning in todays organizations takes place in the interpersonal
interactions between highly interdependent members (Edmondson 2004), and learning behaviors
can be limited by individual concerns about interpersonal risks or consequences, including a fear of
not achieving ones goals and learning anxiety created by feelings of incompetence that occur
during learning (Schein 1996). Overall, the research provides considerable support for the idea
that a climate of psychological safety can mitigate the interpersonal risks inherent in learning in
hierarchies. People are more likely to offer ideas, admit mistakes, ask for help, or provide feedback
if they believe it is safe to do so. With growing numbers of collaborative relationships and complex
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interdependencies in the workplace, psychological safety is likely to remain an important factor
for learning and performance well into the future. Indeed, the common findings across the large
set of studies reviewed (especially at the group level) consistently support a relationship between
psychological safety and learning. A recent meta-analysis on the relationship between psychological
safety and team learning provides additional support for this claim (B. Sanner & B. Bunderson,
unpublished manuscript).
Third, studies show that individuals who experience greater psychological safety are more
likely to speak up at work. Upward communication can be a vital force in helping contemporary
organizations learn and succeed; by speaking up to those who occupy positions to authorize
actions, employees can help challenge the status quo, identify problems or opportunities for im-
provement, and offer ideas to improve their organizationswell-being. Yet, extensive research has
shown that voice in such situations can feel risky (e.g., Burris et al. 2008, Nembhard & Edmondson
2006). The research on psychological safety thus suggests that mitigating this risk is possible.
Similarities and Differences Across Levels of Analysis
Overall, the similarities in essential findings across levels of analysis are striking. Most notably,
psychological safety is associated with learningat all three levels. The interpersonal experience
of psychological safety is argued to be foundational for enabling behaviors essential to learning
and change, whether the entity that needs to change is a person, a team, or a company. Indeed, this
relationship is at the very core of why the construct has maintained a high level of research at-
tention over the years; its because of the importance of learning in a complex and fast-changing
world. Another consistency across levels is attention to performance as a dependent variable. In
addition to the individual-level research just noted, both the organizational- and group-level areas
of research identify clear and significant relationships between psychological safety and per-
formance, using aggregated response data. Both also emphasize conceptual and empirical con-
nections to collective learning processes.
One difference in emphasis at the individual level, compared with the other two, is a focus on
outcomes related to growth and satisfaction (i.e., job engagement and organizational commit-
ment) in addition to performance (e.g., quality internal auditing and creative work involvement).
Moreover, only individual-level research makes a distinction between in-role and extra-role
behaviorsthose activities that are expected in a job but not always delivered consistently versus
those that are contributed voluntarily by people for the good of the collective. This is a distinction
that is not a part of the discussion of psychological safety at the collective levels of analysis.
Finally, despite the predominance of similarities across levels, only the group-level research ex-
plicitly argues that the group is the appropriate level of analysis at which to conceptualize and
measure psychological safety. Starting with Edmondson (1999), studies have found statistically
significant variance in psychological safety between groups within organizations; that is, people
working closely together tend to have similar perceptions of psychological safety, which vary across
groups within the same organization. This body of work thereby supports the idea that psychological
safety in organizational life can best be considered a phenomenon that lives at the group level.
Directions for Future Research
Although existing research has shed light on the challenges and opportunities underlying col-
laboration and innovation in organizations, additional research is needed to expand our un-
derstanding of how psychological safety works. We propose several theoretical and methodological
issues for further attention.
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We believe that the field will benefit from pursuing a dynamic view of psychological safety.
Contemporary work arrangements are linked to external and internal contexts that set the pace of
dynamic cycles of performance activities that often must change over time. This dynamic view of
work has important implications for the study of psychological safety, which also may evolve and
shift over time. Much of the literature on psychological safety provides relatively little insight
regarding how psychological safety unfolds and builds, or lessens, or even is destroyed. It seems
reasonable to assert the likelihood of an asymmetry, in which psychological safety takes time to
build, through familiarity and positive responses to displays of vulnerability and other inter-
personally risky actions, but can be destroyed in an instant through a negative response to an act of
vulnerability. Researchers may wish to examine the dynamic nature of and influences on
psychological safety in future work.
Future research should also test potential boundary conditions for the effects of psychological
safety. Although psychological safety has often been presented as a predictor of learning out-
comes, it also interacts with other variables to alter predicted relationships. A particularly note-
worthy example is found in Siemsen et al.s (2009) study, in which psychological safetys impact
on knowledge sharing was lower when individuals had more confidence in the knowledge to be
shared. Another group convincingly showed that the relationship between psychological safety
andlearning(andalsoperformance)wasstrongerwhentheworkwasmoreuncertainand
more dependent on learning (B. Sanner & B. Bunderson, unpublished manuscript). Additionally,
consideration of other salient factors related to team learning suggests potential boundary
conditions. For example, fluid groupings of 200 or more people collaborating in shifting sub-
groups on a large-scale project will have different needs for and norms related to psychological
safety than will a stable small team of five with a relatively predictable task. Similarly, the role
of psychological safety in multinational, distributed, or virtual teams may be different than that
in the more bounded and local surgery, nursing, and new-product-development teams typically
studied in the articles we reviewed.
In a related vein, cross-cultural comparisons, across both countries and industries, of the effects
of psychological safety on performance outcomes, as well as of underlying mechanisms explaining
these effects, warrant future research. Employees in certain cultures may be particularly hesitant
to ask questions, provide feedback, or openly disagree with superiors, because these behaviors are
considered impolite or to cause a loss of face. We suggest that work on the boundary conditions
of psychological safety remains underdeveloped and that a contingent model of psychological
safety may be worth pursuing for understanding the essential collaborative and innovative ac-
tivities that fuel todays fast-paced organizations.
Methodologically, further research is needed to enhance the credibility and generalization of
current findings. Establishing agreement about the most consistent and accurate measures of
psychological safety may be an important starting point. By far, the most commonly used measure
is a seven-item scale originally developed by Edmondson (1999). In general, that scale demonstrates
good psychometric properties; however, some organizational researchers have used different mea-
surement approaches (e.g., Gibson & Gibbs 2006, Liang et al. 2012). Some of the measures in these
studies are inconsistent with the most common definition of psychological safety (e.g., that found in
Edmondson 1999), which raises concerns about content validity. Additionally, although a number of
researchers have begun to investigate psychological safety in non-English speaking countries (e.g.,
Taiwan and Germany), most current studies are conducted in English-speaking countries. We may
be able to further validate the construct of psychological safety on samples that include more than
one type of team, more than one type of organization, and/or more than one country.
A second methodological concern is that most of the research on psychological safety has been
based on cross-sectional survey studies, which preclude confident conclusions about causality.
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Although several studies collected survey data in multiple waves (e.g., Carmeli & Gittell 2009,
Edmondson & Mogelof 2005, Walumbwa & Schaubroeck 2009), allowing greater confidence in
causal claims, few studies examine psychological safety dynamics over time. Overall, more
longitudinal research will allow a better assessment of cause and effect and also permit an ex-
amination of changes in psychological safety. In this way, we can begin to gain a more dynamic
perspective of the phenomena related to this important interpersonal construct. For example, it is
likely that the consequences of sufficient psychological safety at one point in time promote learning
at that time only. It is also possible that the effects of psychological safety become less pronounced
over time as people become too comfortable with each other and spend inappropriate amounts of
time in casual conversations, rather than emphasizing the work and engaging in learning to drive
performance forward.
We also propose that multilevel and cross-level research is needed to systematically understand
psychological safety. Although prior research encompasses multiple levels of analysis, studies have
not attempted to understand how phenomena at different levels of analysis interact (Hackman
2003). Recent work (e.g., Walumbwa & Schaubroeck 2009) has shown that individual- and
group-level factors combine to impact psychological safety and learning behaviors (e.g., voice).
Therefore, a focus on just one level is likely to provide an incomplete, or even inaccurate, un-
derstanding. Accordingly, we encourage researchers to consider how individual-level and con-
textual (i.e., group- or organization-level) predictors work in concert to create the conditions
leading to and inhibiting psychological safety and learning in organizations.
Finally, we recommend hybrid methods that mix qualitative and quantitative data from both
field studies and laboratory research and thereby shed light on experiences and causal relation-
ships simultaneously (e.g., Edmondson 1999). Field observations capture complexity and rele-
vance of social phenomena such as psychological safety, but they lack precision and control in
inferring causality. Laboratory studies can create control and thus provide general predictions, but
they offer a limited approximation of real-world conditions. These complementary strengths and
weakness thus recommend the use of multiple methods to triangulate across different assessments
in future psychological safety research (Edmondson & McManus 2007).
Implications for Practice
Working collaboratively is an integral part of organization life, but it often proves more in-
terpersonally difficult than anticipated. One of the most fundamental challenges organizations
face is how to manage the interpersonal threats inherent in employees admitting ignorance or
uncertainty, voicing concerns and opinions, or simply being different. These threats are subtle
but powerful, and they inhibit organizational learning. For people to feel comfortable speaking
up with ideas or questionsan essential aspect of organizational learningwithout fear of
ridicule or punishment, managers must work to create a climate of psychological safety.
Otherwise, interpersonal risk is a powerful force that makes effective collaboration less likely
to occur, particularly when the work is characterized by uncertainty and complexity.
One practical takeaway from the literature on psychological safety is that this positive in-
terpersonal climate, which is conducive to learning and performance under uncertainty, does not
emerge naturally. Even when employees are embedded in an organization with a strong culture,
their perceptions of feeling safe to speak up, ask for help, or provide feedback tend to vary from
department to department, and team to team (Edmondson 2003). Some of this variance can be
attributed to the behaviors of local managers and supervisors, whose different styles and behaviors
convey very different messages about the consequences of taking the interpersonal risks associated
with willingly contributing (e.g., see Edmondson 1996, 2003). Although departments and teams
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may benefit from the variety of manager personality and styles, savvy managers should not
underestimate the extent of congruent communication and intentional intervention required for
psychological safety to be consistently effective.
The burden of collaborating and learning does not lie solely with managers. Employees can
help by taking specific actions that differ in important ways from conventional wisdom about ideal
employee behavior. For example, most managers would naturally value an employee who fixes
problems she encounters without bothering managers or colleagues, that is, without speaking up,
asking for help, or questioning how and why the problem occurred in the first place. Tucker &
Edmondson (2003) called this first-order learning behavior, noting that it allows the work to
continue but precludes organizational learning. They argued that, from an organizational learning
perspective, this valued behavior is potentially more harmful than helpful. First, the problem may
have a cause that lies in another part of the organization, and only through communication and
collaboration can that cause be identified and altered. Second, the employees colleagues may face
similar problems, and the employees self-sufficient, independent actions preclude their learning
from her experience and hence inhibit the organizations learning. By contrast, organizations in
which managers value the employee who speaks up, questions existing practices, and suggests new
ideas are better able to improve and learn. Because these behaviors are interpersonally risky,
psychological safety is needed to enable them.
Of course, psychological safety is not a panacea for addressing all of the challenges of orga-
nizational collaboration and learning. Rather, an interpersonal climate of safety must be com-
bined with other essential ingredients (e.g., strategy, vision, goals, supportive leadership, and so
on) to best enable learning and performance. Moreover, despite its consistent positive influence,
psychological safety may have negative effects as well. Excessive psychological safety may send
Table 1 Summary of future research directions and implications for practice
Summary
Theoretical
opportunities
A dynamic view of psychological safety to provide insights about how psychological safety unfolds
and builds, or weakens, or is destroyed.
Research to investigate the potential boundary conditions for effects of psychological safety on group and
organizational outcomes.
Cross-cultural comparisons of relationships between psychological safety and performance outcomes,
as well as comparisons of underlying mechanisms.
Methodological
challenges
Consistent and accurate measures of the construct of psychological safety.
Longitudinal research that allows both a better assessment of cause and effect and an examination of changes
in psychological safety over time.
Multilevel and cross-level research on psychological safety.
Hybrid methods that mix qualitative and quantitative data, as well as studies that blend field and laboratory
research to illuminate the phenomena and assess causality simultaneously.
Practical
implications
Managers must create a climate of psychological safety to mitigate interpersonal risks and make collaboration
more likely, particularly in face of uncertainty, complexity, and interdependence.
Managers should not underestimate the importance of congruent communication and deliberate interventions
to build and maintain psychological safety, and they should allow it to facilitate performance.
Employees can help through their willingness to speak up and challenge the status quo. At the same time,
managers must learn to value employees who engage in such behaviors, even though they may instinctively
prefer employee silence and agreement with the status quo.
An interpersonal climate of safety, combined with other essential ingredients (e.g., strategy, vision, goals,
supportive leadership, and so on), enables learning and performance.
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people down a path of wasting valuable time on unimportant things or a path of losing the mo-
tivation to really learn. Managers need to work to achieve a balance of encouraging open com-
munication related to the task at hand and providing constructive feedback to limit irrelevant
questions, comments, or discussions. Organizations may fare well when managers set high
standards and send the right message about these standards and the nature of the work. Table 1
summarizes our key points about future research and practical implications.
CONCLUSION
Over the past six decades, organizational behavior research has generated an informative body of
studies that establish the vital role of psychological safety in organizational life. Spanning levels of
analysis, industries, and nations, these studies shed light on the human need to feel safe at work in
order to grow, learn, contribute, and perform effectively in a rapidly changing world. Nonetheless,
important questions remain, and it is our hope that this article will help researchers pursue exciting
and useful avenues of investigation within this topic for years to come.
DISCLOSURE STATEMENT
The authors are not aware of any affiliations, memberships, funding, or financial holdings that
might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this review.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We gratefully acknowledge the superb research assistance of Natalie Bartlett and the financial sup-
port of the Harvard Business Schools Division of Research.
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Annual Review of
Organizational
Psychology and
Organizational Behavior
Volume 1, 2014 Contents
What Was, What Is, and What May Be in OP/OB
Lyman W. Porter and Benjamin Schneider ......................... 1
Psychological Safety: The History, Renaissance, and Future of an
Interpersonal Construct
Amy C. Edmondson and Zhike Lei ...................... ........ 23
Personality and Cognitive Ability as Predictors of Effective
Performance at Work
Neal Schmitt ........................................... ... 45
Perspectives on Power in Organizations
Cameron Anderson and Sebastien Brion .......................... 67
WorkFamily Boundary Dynamics
Tammy D. Allen, Eunae Cho, and Laurenz L. Meier ...... ........... 99
Coworkers Behaving Badly: The Impact of Coworker Deviant
Behavior upon Individual Employees
Sandra L. Robinson, Wei Wang, and Christian Kiewitz .............. 123
The Fascinating Psychological Microfoundations of Strategy and
Competitive Advantage
Robert E. Ployhart and Donald Hale, Jr. ......................... 145
Employee Voice and Silence
Elizabeth W. Morrison ...................................... 173
The Story of Why We Stay: A Review of Job Embeddedness
Thomas William Lee, Tyler C. Burch, and Terence R. Mitchell ........ 199
Where Global and Virtual Meet: The Value of Examining the
Intersection of These Elements in Twenty-First-Century Teams
Cristina B. Gibson, Laura Huang, Bradley L. Kirkman,
and Debra L. Shapiro ....................................... 217
viii
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Learning in the Twenty-First-Century Workplace
Raymond A. Noe, Alena D.M. Clarke, and Howard J. Klein ..........245
Compassion at Work
Jane E. Dutton, Kristina M. Workman, and Ashley E. Hardin .........277
Talent Management: Conceptual Approaches and Practical Challenges
Peter Cappelli and JR Keller ..................................305
Research on Workplace Creativity: A Review and Redirection
Jing Zhou and Inga J. Hoever .................................333
The Contemporary Career: A WorkHome Perspective
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus and Ellen Ernst Kossek .....................361
Burnout and Work Engagement: The JDR Approach
Arnold B. Bakker, Evangelia Demerouti, and Ana Isabel Sanz-Vergel ...389
The Psychology of Entrepreneurship
Michael Frese and Michael M. Gielnik ..........................413
Delineating and Reviewing the Role of Newcomer Capital in
Organizational Socialization
Talya N. Bauer and Berrin Erdogan ............................439
Emotional Intelligence in Organizations
Stéphane Côté ............................................459
Intercultural Competence
Kwok Leung, Soon Ang, and Mei Ling Tan .......................489
Pay Dispersion
Jason D. Shaw ............................................521
Constructively Managing Conflicts in Organizations
Dean Tjosvold, Alfred S.H. Wong, and Nancy Yi Feng Chen ..........545
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure: Improving
Research Quality Before Data Collection
Herman Aguinis and Robert J. Vandenberg .......................569
Errata
An online log of corrections to Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and
Organizational Behavior articles may be found at http://www.annualreviews.org/
errata/orgpsych.
Contents ix
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... Psychological safety (PS) is a key factor for successful collaboration (Bergmann and Schaeppi, 2016). It is defined as team members' shared belief that their environment is conducive to interpersonally risky behaviors such as speaking up, asking for help, or owning up to mistakes (Edmondson and Lei, 2014). In teams with a high level of PS, members send and receive signals to each other, prompting them to share ideas or admit mistakes, compared to teams with a low level of PS. ...
... We addressed scholarly calls for more holistic research regarding time and changes in teams, more specifically regarding the formation and changes in PS (Roe et al., 2012;Edmondson and Lei, 2014). We refer to theories from diversity research and the model of team faultlines to provide a theoretical frame for how PS forms (Lau and Murnighan, 2005). ...
Article
Full-text available
Psychological safety (PS) is a shared belief among team members that it is safe to take interpersonal risks. It can enhance team learning, experimentation with new ideas, and team performance. Considerable research has examined the positive effects of PS in diverse organizational contexts and is now shifting its focus toward exploring the nature of PS itself. This study aims to enhance our understanding of PS antecedents and development over time. Based on the model of team faultlines and research on team diversity, we examined the effects of demographic faultlines, team member personality, and member competencies on the development of PS. Over 5 months, 61 self-managed teams ( N = 236) assessed their PS at the beginning, midpoint, and end of a research project. Results of a multilevel growth curve model show that PS decreased from project beginning to end. Initial levels of PS were especially low when teams had strong demographic faultlines and when team members differed in neuroticism. PS decreased more strongly over time when team members were diverse in agreeableness and assessed their task-related competencies to be relatively high. Our study identifies time and team composition attributes as meaningful predictors for the development of PS. We present ideas for future research and offer suggestions for how and when to intervene to help teams strengthen PS throughout their collaboration.
... Дослідження психологічної безпеки доводять своє значення для психічного розвитку дітей, якість підготовки та соціалізації, подолання труднощів, у тому числі у професійній сфері (Баева, 2012;Edmondson, 2016;Wanless, 2016). Поряд з дослідженням психологічної безпеки фізичних осіб або безпеки на індивідуальному рівні вивчаються різні аспекти психологічної безпеки середовища (Баева, 2006), організації і групи (Edmondson & Lei, 2014). Дослідники визначають психологічну безпеку особистості через ступінь, в якій люди відчувають себе комфортно, приймаючи позитивні міжособистісні ризики (Wanless, 2016); як здатність підтримувати стабільність у середовищі з певними параметрами, у тому числі з психотравмуючими ефектами, досвід своєї безпеки / невпевненості в конкретній ситуації життя (Баева, 2006). ...
... Психологічна безпека відіграє важливу роль, допомагаючи людям подолати бар'єри для навчання та зміни в складній міжособистісній ситуації (Edmondson, 2016). Дослідження доводять вплив психологічної безпеки на особисту ефективність (Edmondson & Lei, 2014), її значення для розвитку спільної роботи та запобігання проблем (Song, Peng & Yu, 2019). Дослідження в галузі організаційної психології визначають психологічну безпеку як важливий чинник у розумінні того, як люди співпрацюють для досягнення загального результату (Edmondson, 1999). ...
Article
Актуальність дослідження: вбачається у необхідності визначення психолінгвістичного значення концепту психологічної безпеки. Мета дослідження: на основі прикладного психолінгвістичного дослідження описати психолінгвістичне значення вербалізованого концепту «безпека». Методи дослідження. Основним методом дослідження був психолінгвістичний експеримент, основним етапом якого був вільний асоціативний експеримент (ВAE) з словом-стимулом "Безпека". Додаткові методи були опитування (для уточнення результатів ВAE), анкету (для уточнення характеристик вибірки). Серед математикостатистичних методів аналізу результатів дослідження був використаний частотний аналіз. Результати дослідження. Результатом проведеного дослідження був опис психолінгвістичного значення концепта «безпека». Визначено, що слово «безпека» асоціюється з: домом. Спокоєм, захистом, сім’єю, комфортом. Воно утворює семантичний простір ресурсів, благополуччя та комфорту, асоціюється із соціальними інститутами та способами захисту та самооборони. Висновки. Результати психолінгвістичного експерименту показали, що вербалізований концепт «безпека» у повсякденній мовній свідомості майбутніх психологів, що є білінгвами, виражається у зв’язку із ближньою периферією («дім», «спокій», «захист», «комфорт»). Асоціативне поле концепту «безпеки» представлені семами, що відбиваються у периферійних психолінгвістичних значеннях – «сімя», «охорона», «затишок», «тепло», «надійність» і множині іних значень крайньої периферії. Загалом отримані результати знаходять підтвердження у зарубіжному дослідженні, присвяченому аналізу і опису концепту «безпека», який характеризується декількома семантичними рівнями, високочастотними асоціатами подібної семантики.
... There is reason to believe that, based on their own experience of leadership during the pandemic, leaders are able to point out elements that are essential in leading psychological safety in remote work. Furthermore, it has been argued that research on psychological safety and leadership would benefit from examining the topic from multiple perspectives [14,32]. Therefore, this study examines the topic from the perspective of the leaders themselves. ...
... Supportive leadership behaviors, such as leader inclusiveness [51,52], support [53], and trustworthiness [54] have been shown to decisively influence individual employees' perceptions of psychological safety, which in turn affects positive employee outcomes such as work engagement, job performance, creative work, and voice behaviors [15]. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that the boundary conditions of psychological safety remain an understudied area, particularly so in the case of the role of leadership: leadership matters in fostering psychological safety, but in what conditions does it matter most [14,32]? In this study, we focus on the context of academic remote work and the exceptional period of crisis. ...
Article
Full-text available
This study examines leading psychosocial safety climate (PSC) within the organization and psychological safety in teams in remote work conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These topical working life phenomena have an essential role in health, well-being and productivity in today’s working life, but they have rarely been studied in remote work context. A total of 26 supervisors and leaders at three Finnish universities participated in semi-structured interviews. The data were analyzed using qualitative content analysis, resulting in four main categories: supportive and challenging aspects of leading psychological safety and well-being, supportive and challenging aspects of organizational psychosocial safety climate leadership, support for working as a supervisor, and characteristics specific to working in academia. The results indicate that leading psychological safety remotely requires more time, deliberation and intentionality than when working face to face, and that the role of remote interaction is underlined in it. As to PSC, it is important to improve the cohesion in leading psychological safety and health in academic organizations. How PSC is led in the organizations affects not only the general psychosocial working conditions, but also the possibilities for good leadership of psychological safety in smaller units in the organization. The study makes a novel contribution especially in understanding (1) leadership of PSC and psychological safety in remote work conditions, and (2) the reciprocal relations between leading psychological safety and well-being at the organizational level and the team level.
... Safety voice behavior is a risky behavior because it is often accompanied by the discovery of problems and changes, which means that it may involve the destruction of interpersonal relationships among colleagues and challenges to the authority of superiors, so employees will always assess the risks behind the behavior and their ability to counteract them before expressing safety voice. Psychological safety expresses the evaluation of the risk outcomes to be considered in a particular situation (e.g., the workplace) [78]. When psychological safety is strong, employees do not have to worry that safety voice behavior will be ostracized and retaliated by colleagues, or that the safety voice behavior will be rejected by their superiors and, thus, affect their future development in the organization. ...
... On the other hand, psychological safety can act directly on safety voice. Psychological safety facilitates employees to express suggestions and seek feedback [78]. Higher psychological safety facilitates employees' level of engagement and involvement at work, which leads to more exploratory and innovative behaviors [96]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Safety voice has become a popular research topic in the organizational safety field because it helps to prevent accidents. A good safety climate and psychological safety can motivate employees to actively express their ideas about safety, but the specific mechanisms of safety climate and psychological safety, on safety voice, are not yet clear. Based on the “environment-subject cognition-behavior” triadic interaction model of social cognitive theory, this paper explores the relationship between safety climate and safety voice, and the mediating role of psychological safety. We collected questionnaires and conducted data analysis of the valid questionnaires using analytical methods such as hierarchical regression, stepwise regression, and the bootstrap sampling method. We found that safety climate significantly and positively influenced safety voice, and psychological safety played a mediating role between safety climate and safety voice, which strengthened the positive relationship between them. From the research results, it was clear that to stimulate employees to express safety voice behavior, organizations should strive to create a good safety climate and pay attention to building employees’ psychological safety. The findings of this paper provide useful insights for the management of employee safety voice behavior in enterprises.
... Use of model approved by authors Psychological safety is an important aspect of learning. The concept relates to feeling safe and not fearing negative consequences when, for instance, asking questions or contributing to discussions (Edmondson and Lei 2014). Focus on team building and effective communication stimulates student participation, which again leads to advanced learning processes. ...
Conference Paper
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... Psychological safety is of great importance in the successful performance of activities in organizations today, with the cooperation of employees (Bettencourt & Brown, 1997). The division of work into specializations and their complexity with developing technology increases the importance of interpersonal cooperation in activities such as product design and strategy development (Edmondson & Lei, 2014). Psychological safety is considered an important element, especially when people cooperate for a common goal (Kahn, 1990 (Edmondson, 1999). ...
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