Tip # 713: Why Psychological Safety is Important

“Psychological safety is really important to the learning process.” Sharon Bowman

We have included a trust-building module in The Peer Learning Group Program.  We feel that it is advisable for any group to participate in this module prior to starting on a topical module.

The effectiveness of a Peer Learning Group depends upon the willingness of its members to be open and honest with each other. The only environment in which people feel comfortable to be so open and honest is one where they trust each other and feel safe. This is called “psychological safety.”

Amy Edmondson, who coined the term, defines psychological safety as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”

In a recent article on Strategies to Make Your Peer Learning Program Thrive, Jessica Hartung and Kate Goff note the importance of psychological safety for peer group participants to be willing to learn, share ideas, and admit mistakes.

Participants need to “…get to know one another before tackling heavy topics. Acknowledge and normalize the discomfort of being vulnerable, and … ask everyone to agree to the terms of confidentiality, thoughtful discourse and respect toward one another.”

Each of our modules begins by having each group member share a specific challenge that s/he doesn’t feel was handled well. It is a very vulnerable thing to acknowledge mistakes, failures, or even a lack of confidence in one’s ability to handle a situation.

The rest of the content in the modules flows from this first admission. The managers’ next step is to determine the root causes of these situations, operating on the assumption that the managers have been responding to symptoms of what are in actuality much deeper or more serious problems.

Then we introduce techniques, concepts or information that we hope will help them come up with more effective ways to handle the situations they described.

So, bottom line, they need to be comfortable enough to be open and honest about their less than stellar moments and situations.

Our trust-building module, titled Learning Together, addresses these needs with the following objectives. During the module, the members:

  1. Share an experience when a lack of trust adversely affected work relationships and/or performance;
  2. Determine the root causes of these difficulties with creating and maintaining a sense of trust;
  3. Assess the impact of establishing expectations for trusting behavior and trustworthy behavior on a group;
  4. Build greater understanding and trust with their group members;
  5. Create operating guidelines to ensure a safe and trusting environment; and
  6. Report their commitment to the group members.

This trust-building module is intended to create the psychological safety that group members need so they will be comfortable sharing their experiences and concerns, hearing others’ ideas, and working collaboratively to create new strategies to respond to real work challenges.

May your learning be sweet.


If you would like to learn more about peer learning groups and the Peer Learning Group Model, we have a webinar scheduled every Wednesday from 1-2 p.m. CDT. You can find more information about the webinar at http://www.peerlearninggroup.com/webinars/

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