Psychological Safety

Psychological safety in the work environment allows team members to feel safe to take risks. When team members feel safe, they are more effective, engaged, and stay longer.

Message from our Lab Director, Mike Witherell, on "How we can help build better teams":


At Berkeley Lab, people with a variety of skills come together to tackle large-scale, impactful scientific challenges. We call this Team Science. Today, as we think more critically about how we do Team Science, we want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to contribute so we never miss the chance to consider potentially valuable feedback or ideas. It’s important to recognize that all of us communicate differently, and that team dynamics and personal styles can sometimes prevent individuals from speaking up....

Read Director Witherell's full letter

In studying the Five Components of Highly Effective Teams, researchers found that psychological safety was the most important component and predictor of team performance and effectiveness. Those teams with high levels of psychological safety were rated as effective twice as often; were less likely to leave the organization; were more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from team members; and felt more safe to be creative.

⇨ “Team psychological safety” was defined by Harvard organizational behavioral scientist, Amy Edmondson, as “the shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”

This means that the team has a learning posture where:

1) members are comfortable admitting mistakes or bringing up difficult topics;

2) the team learns from these errors together;

3) it creates a safe environment where members openly share ideas with “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up”;

4) teams become stronger, have increased engagement and morale, and have the data they need for better decision-making and innovation.

By promoting team psychological safety, we can continue to strive for excellence and innovation in research and operations as “the home of Team Science.”


Matt Sakaguchi, a site reliability engineer at Google, spoke about the company’s research and practical tips around building high-performing teams, including the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. Michelle Elrod, Director of Employee Organizational Development and Advancement at Cal Polytechnic University Pomona, has applied Google’s research and implemented the principles for building high-performing teams in an academic setting.



Of the five key dynamics of effective teams that the researchers identified, psychological safety was by far the most important. This document lists five factors that lead to psychological safety.

Times of crisis are uncomfortable and disruptive. This is true whether the crisis is a shared adversity or an individual struggle. During any disruption, talking openly about challenges can be uncomfortable and daunting and employees may hold back. But disruptions make it all the more important for individuals and leaders to have relevant and accurate information. Employees and managers need to feel comfortable both giving and receiving feedback and information in two-way dialogue. (Click here to view the video presentation on 5/14/20.)

This short survey is based on Amy Edmondson's article "Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams" (see below in Good Reads) and contains questions on individual safety, team respect and team learning.

Note: Before sharing this survey with your team, please consult with your HR Division Partner on appropriateness for your team and planning for ways to manage responses.

Discussion Guide