Psychological safety The secret of high-performing teams

Psychological safety – the missing key to team performance

Recent multi-year research programs at Harvard and Google are calling into question everything we thought we knew about team dynamics. It turns out, counterintuitively, that traditionally structured teams focused singularly on error-free task completion are not particularly high-performing.

New empirical evidence suggests that the teams who are most successful have an important difference – they are open to admitting mistakes and discussing them with one another. These teams display a unique openness to and culture of constant learning and improvement. People in such teams understand they can take risks and make mistakes without being ridiculed or rejected. It is this psychological safety which gives rise to creative, innovative, ground-breaking thinking and problem-solving; and which more than any other single factor is the determinant of making a team successful.

We now understand that the idea of putting on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office is fundamentally flawed. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough sometimes to share the things that scare us without fear of recrimination. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad and to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy.

A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.”
– Simon Sinek

Today’s complex problems and decisions demand diversity of perspective, collaboration and innovation. If your people are fearful of speaking up, making mistakes and taking risks, chances are your solutions and decisions will be sub-optimal at best. In psychologically safe environments, workers are less concerned with managing impressions and image and can spend more time focussed on work.

Luckily, the behaviours that create psychological safety — things like conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter more. Much of the work then is around recognising work environments that we have allowed to be de-humanised or over corporatised and creating space to recognise the importance of the wellbeing of employees and their contribution to the team.

How can Barcley help?

Barcley consultants are committed to helping you foster a psychologically safe work environment and improve the outcomes of your team. We will partner with you to measure the levels of psychological safety in your organisation and identify and implement opportunities to rapidly lift team performance and business results.

Regardless of where you are on your psychological safety journey, we are experienced in supporting senior executives, HR professionals and line managers to move their organisations along the maturity curve by building more trust in their teams.

Our proprietary, five-week program supports organisations, departments and functional areas to develop an as-is baseline, set goals and plan effective initiatives to improve team culture and trust. Specifically, the program consists of:

      1. On-line confidential diagnostic survey and analysis
      2. Expert review of existing policies, documents and frameworks
      3. Virtual and in-office observations of general working interactions and scheduled meetings
      4. One-on-one employee consultations
      5. Workshop training on phycological safety training principles
      6. Development of Psychological Safety Roadmap with clear next steps

Our program can fast track your culture and team development strategy by pinpointing how to quickly transition towards behaviours that enable psychological safety.


Case Study – Queensland Department of Resources

The Challenge

Barcley worked with the Department of Resources to help it carry out a Psychological Safety Maturity Assessment, identify opportunities to improve team performance, and build a Psychological Safety Development Roadmap.


Working with departmental leaders, Barcley supported the realization of a range of project benefits including:

  • Increasing SMART accountability to ensure clarity of responsibilities
  • Transparency of work within the team to build empathy & collaboration
  • Embedding opportunities to speak up, ideate and innovate
  • Conscious acknowledgement of modelled behaviours.

About Barcley

Barcley Consulting is a boutique management consulting company which is dedicated to providing high-value strategic advice to organisations and helping them create the change that matters most to them. 

  • We help organizations across the private, public, and social sectors to redefine their strategies, to embed innovation in everything they do and to execute their transformative change agenda. 
  • We do this by working hand in hand with our clients to achieve the results they desire. Whether it is managing an internal improvement program or negotiating a complex financial transaction on behalf of our clients, we offer a variety of services from leadership coaching to delivery partnership.
  • We are a proud Gold Coast based business focused on Southeast Queensland; we bring our clients extensive international experience and global best practice adapted to be practical in local market conditions.

Recent projects undertaken by our consultants.

      • Department of Resources – Ways of Working, Agile & Psychological Safety
      • Mercy Community – Values & Employee Value Proposition
      • NSW Department of Education – Diversity & Inclusion Strategy
      • OZ Minerals – Culture Transformation Program
      • Climate Council – Culture Roadmap
      • City of Gold Coast – Membership model review


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