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Organizations need to adapt to the future in order to be resilient. A meta-analysis shows how psychological safety can influence innovation-oriented behavior.

Introduction  

As companies navigate a dynamic environment, fostering individual innovation behaviors and enhancing team and organizational innovation have become essential for gaining and maintaining a competitive edge. 

Psychological safety, a positive cognitive state, is crucial in promoting healthy team and organizational development. It refers to an individual’s perception that relationships are safe and it’s necessary for personal growth, learning, and effective work.

The team adaptation theory suggests that psychological safety makes innovation behavior possible: innovation occurs more frequently in an atmosphere where individuals feel secure.

A workplace with psychological safety encourages open communication, feedback seeking, discussion of mistakes, and consideration of alternative perspectives.

This, in turn, allows employees to overcome anxiety, fear of failure, and engage in innovative and boundary-crossing behaviour. 

“Psychological safety, a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking” – Amy Edmondson 

What Does Science Say? 

Systematic and quantitative reviews of psychological safety are rare, making this study a valuable contribution to the field.

The meta-analysis of 94 studies provides insights into the nuanced relationship between psychological safety and innovation behavior. These are the main findings:

  • Psychological safety positively influences both employee and team innovation behavior. Psychological safety is instrumental in focusing on innovative outcomes.
  • Team type moderates the positive relationship between psychological safety and team innovation behaviour. There is a stronger relationship in knowledge teams.
  • The cultural background moderates the positive relationship between psychological safety and employee innovation behaviour.

What Does Practice Say? 

 Leaders play a pivotal role in creating this environment of psychological safety, fostering a climate where candor is not only welcomed but encouraged. We deliberately use the world climate here instead of culture, as we think leaders have a greater impact on climate.

We know that innovation is not easy and that people are confronted with setbacks; Most ideas never come to full development. So, it is necessary to embrace discomfort and to promote open dialogue.

When leaders confidently solicit and reward feedback, they encourage employees to express their genuine thoughts and be receptive to others’ opinions in return. (see Edmundson ) 

So leaders should develop skills of effective communication, active listening, and constructive feedback,  to enhance openness and trust within teams. Understanding the impact of feedback is essential for fostering psychological safety.  

Leaders need to assess how their praise or criticism is being received. If the communication is perceived negatively, adapting and communicating more effectively is crucial. In creating a psychologically safe environment, the focus is on the impact of the message, not just the intentions behind it .

It’s not a quick fix, though. You cannot force people to feel safe. People will feel safe when everything they experience confirms that it’s OK to be vulnerable, to speak up, to make mistakes.

So, should we focus on Psychological Safety? 

In conclusion, understanding psychological safety is crucial for organizations aiming at innovation. The results of the meta-analysis emphasize the significant positive impact of psychological safety on both individual and team innovation behavior. However, it is essential to recognize moderating factors such as team type and cultural background. 

We should not be naive and oversimplify. Psychological safety is the result of many experiences people have. Trustworthy leaders, consistent treatment, and mild reactions to setbacks, motivating feedback will contribute to a safe climate and will make people feel safe. But as usual, it does not take much to make safety erode. There is no quick fix, there is no eternal fix and there is no fix that will fit everybody all of the time as different people respond differently to similar situations.

The research:

  • Zhu, J., Lv, H., & Feng, Y. (2022). The Effect of Psychological Safety on Innovation Behaviour: A Meta-Analysis. In 2022 7th International Conference on Financial Innovation and Economic Development (ICFIED 2022), Atlantis Presspp. 3082-3087.
  • Edmondson, A & Scott, K. (2022). Follow these 4 steps to create psychological safety in your teams. In Fast Company – Online publication https://www.fastcompany.com/90814937/follow-these-4-steps-to-create-psychological-safety-in-your-teams  (last visited on February 8, 2023)

 

Although the meta-analysis was not published in a leading journal, the methodology is sound and so we are confident that these insights are robust.

 

Photo by lil artsy: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-clear-light-bulb-1314410/

The results of this 2022 meta-analysis indicate a significant positive effect on employee and team innovation behavior. Moreover, cultural context and team type were found to moderate this relationship. 

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