Can psychological safety coexist with a high level of accountability?

Psychological safety

Psychological safety is a critical concept in the realm of workplace dynamics and team collaboration. Coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety refers to the shared belief within a team that it is safe to take interpersonal risks, such as expressing one's opinions or admitting mistakes, without fear of negative consequences. 

A psychologically safe environment fosters open communication, trust, and a sense of belonging among team members. It is characterised by a culture that encourages curiosity, innovation, and constructive feedback. When people feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to share their thoughts, ask questions, and contribute ideas, ultimately leading to increased collaboration and problem-solving within the team.

Psychological safety is one of the most crucial building blocks in creating a successful and creative organisation. But it has also been challenged:

“Too much psychological safety leads to people using it as an excuse for not doing their jobs.”

“Too much psychological safety leads to people using it as an excuse for their bad behaviour.”

“Too much psychological safety leads to people using it as an excuse for not providing constructive feedback.”

It is relatively easy to focus only on psychological safety or high accountability when it comes to the organisational culture. But as neither of the extremes normally works, can they coexist and create a recipe for a winning culture?


5 steps to psychological safety at work

At Lyyti, we believe they can. It is possible to build a system where both sides are taken into account. This is how it can be done:

  1. Know your sweet spot. As an organisation, you need to know where you wish to be on the “high-care-high-performance continuum”. It is not the same spot for everyone.

  2. Build psychological safety systematically. It requires continuous work and can be lost in minutes. The best way is to have a clear development model for all employees and teams to build psychological safety systematically.

  3. Add accountability step by step. Accountability works in the long run only with psychological safety, so it must come after it. Ensure a continuous feedback culture between all employees to strengthen accountability all the time. 

  4. Be consistent. Complex interpersonal matters are not developed by one annual all-staff development day. The only way to succeed is by building a system where both psychological safety and accountability are systematically developed. Always prefer consistency over intensity. 

  5. Normalise making mistakes. We all make mistakes, but just stating that it is natural is not enough. Again, build a system where mistakes are handled in a psychologically safe environment with accountability. That is the recipe for success.

In the end, it is a choice based on the company's values and how you wish to succeed. The spot you choose in the high-care-high-performance continuum greatly affects how the organisation should be led. 

Make your decision, and stick with it! Psychological safety and a high level of accountability can coexist in the same organisation.


Hero photo by Sarah Ardin