How do you measure psychological safety?

How do you measure psychological safety?

I was delighted at the question – Peter had been listening!  When we started speaking he’d trundled out the familiar line: ‘this stuff is all very well, but you can’t measure it.’ 

Now, his position had shifted – something had clearly caught his attention.


What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is

“a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes

This definition from Professor Amy Edmondson is deceptively simple. The ramifications are profound.

Think of the organizations, teams and leaders you know.  How many demonstrate a disconnect between aspiration and reality?  They want to be known for inspiring great results and finding creative solutions.  Yet many get stuck because of invisible dynamics which play out on a daily basis.

You see it when an employee keeps quiet although something is clearly wrong, and when a contractor doesn’t mention a different way of working in case they get laughed at.  You see it in ritualized board meetings and team meetings where Groupthink prevails or the risk of being cast as the dissenting voice is just too high.

Low psychological safety gets in the way of performance, innovation and learning.

And, if you can’t deliver the project and outcomes you’ve promised, it will get in the way of personal success.  In other words, psychological safety is the key enabler.

Psychological safety is the KEY enabler

This insight, from over 25 years of research by Edmondson, gained traction when Google published the results of a multi-year research program titled Project Aristotle. Aristotle explored one question from hundreds of angles:

“What makes our most effective teams so effective?”

You can read about it in this New York Times article where Google’s lead researcher summarizes the findings

“Psychological safety was by far the most important factor…it was the underpinning”

The lessons from Project Aristotle caught Peter’s attention, but he didn’t change his position until I started telling him about the PSI (psychological safety index).

Knowing about the  PSI answered a crucial question – how do you measure psychological safety?

How do you measure psychological safety?

What is the PSI

The PSI is a tool developed by The Fearless Organization in collaboration with Amy Edmondson.

It takes the ‘soft and fluffy’ notion of psychological safety and translates it into something Peter, like many of the executives and project leaders I work with, is  comfortable with – numbers.

Essentially, it’s a questionnaire that you and your team complete individually.  (The questions have been refined so well over the years that the current version takes less than 3 minutes to complete).

The Fearless Organization crunches the numbers, and turns them into a report.  This report provides the data that enables you and your team to work out how to improve performance.

With the PSI you and your team can:

  • get a real handle on the elusive social dynamics that get in the way of delivery
  • understand how easy, or difficult, it is for people to speak up and be heard
  • explore what’s going on below the surface of interactions
  • decide what needs to happen to increase psychological safety

You can use the PSI to:

  • take a snapshot of psychological safety at a particular moment in time, or
  • do a periodic survey, in which case you’d
    • create a baseline
    • actively work to enhance it
    • track improvements over time
  • enhance psychological safety in a single team or, all the teams in your organization

And of course you can:

  • benchmark your team’s results with those of over a thousand other teams across the globe.

Who can use the PSI

The creators of the PSI recognise you can’t force people to feel safe!  Psychological safety needs to be consciously  and carefully fostered.

Get it right and the prize is great.  Get it wrong, and things can spiral out of control.

Is your team performing as well as you’d like?  Could low levels of psychological safety be the root cause?  Or perhaps you are stuck in a stress cycle?

You won’t be a surprised to learn that The Fearless Organization guards its reputation.  It insists the PSI is administered and debriefed by licensed practitioners.  I’m delighted to hold one of the first licenses in Europe.

Measure your psychological safety

There are three ways to bring the PSI to your organization or team. Choose the one that suits you best by clicking on the appropriate link:

  • Free personal scan: gauge your perception of psychological safety in your current organization. It’s free of charge, but you get no context.  You cannot benchmark your experience against your colleagues’.
  • PSI (Psychological Safety Index): get an anonymous report on the levels of psychological safety in your current organization.  You can discuss in your team or organization autonomously.  It’s priced at just $7.50 per person
  • Fearless Organization Scan Debrief:  A certified Psychological Safety Coach  debriefs you and your team members’ results in a psychologically safe way so you can start driving improved performance immediately.
    • You get:
      • a team report and individual reports for each team member.
      • an introduction to psychological safety
      • insights on your team’s scoring
      • a guided team dialogue to gain commitment to improving psychological safety

Get in touch to find out more


Further Resources

The seminal book about about psychological safety is The Fearless Organization, by Professor Amy C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School.  It makes a compelling case for investing in psychological safety and draws on case studies from numerous industry sectors.



Image:  Psychological Safety by uenlinotes on Voynetech