Psychological Safety for Learning Behaviour & Development
What is one of the most critical factors in a fast-paced and ever-changing workplace? The answer is learning behaviour because it indicates how an employee can make sense of what is happening, learn and adapt, take action and advance the business in its journey. One of the best indicators of learning behaviour is psychological safety.
Schein and Bennis (1965) introduced psychological safety as a critical part of the “unfreezing” process required for organisational learning and change. When you think about the foundational components of being a learning organisation, fostering psychological safety makes sense for achieving the desired outcomes.
The elements of psychological safety from academic literature (Kahn, 1990; Edmondson, 1999; Schein, 1993) are pertinent to learning and development. A team with psychological safety:
- Overcomes barriers to change
- Operates without fear of negative consequences
- Holds a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking
- Facilitates the willing contribution of ideas and actions.
These points create a solid foundation for being a learning organisation - one that encourages the attainment of knowledge, broadening one’s understanding, learning from mistakes and sharing lessons in a communal way to advance the people and the organisation.
According to the Australian Human Resource Institute (AHRI), there are numerous reasons why an organisation should invest in learning and development, which include:
- To improve business performance, productivity and efficiency
- Improvement in employees' skills and knowledge for their current job role
- Increasing employees' generic skills i.e. employability skills or key competencies (e.g. communication)
- Compliance with legal requirements
- Organisational development (e.g. the fostering of shared attitudes and values)
- Talent management and succession planning
- Employee career development
- Employee motivation.
In Amy Edmondson’s seminal work on psychological safety (1999), she concluded that, “the need for learning in work teams is likely to become increasingly critical as organisational change and complexity intensify. Fast-paced work environments require learning behaviour to make sense of what is happening as well as to take action. With the promise of more uncertainty, more change, and less job security in future organisations, teams are in a position to provide an important source of psychological safety for individuals at work. The need to ask questions, seek help, and tolerate mistakes in the face of uncertainty - while team members and other colleagues watch - is probably more prevalent in companies today than [before].” (p. 380)
- Australian Human Resource Institute (AHRI). Learning and Development. No date.
- Edmondson A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behaviour in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 350–383. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2666999
- Kahn WA. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, 33, 692–724. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/256287
- Schein EH. (1993). How can organizations learn faster? The challenge of entering the green room. Sloan Management Review, 34, 85–92.
- Schein EH, Bennis WG. (1965). Personal and organisational change through group methods: The laboratory approach. New York, NY: Wiley.
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Head of Consulting Services, Australia & New Zealand. Temre has designed, planned and delivered business strategy and transformation programs that were driven by a range of factors, such as innovation, growth, compliance, regulations, restructures and economic downturns. As an Industrial-Organisational Psychologist, Temre has spent her career dedicated to organisational behaviour and the work environment. She is currently focused on the future of work and multiple areas of organisational development that support organisational growth and health.