The One With The Zones
Where does this psychological safety comes? What are these zones? What benefits does the right positioning in this chart offer me and my organization? With this short blog, you will find clues about where you stand and how you can improve it
How It All Started…
When Dr. Amy Edmondson was asked to examine medical errors through the lenses of team dynamics and communication, she hypothesized that teams that communicated better would make less errors. But when she looked at her data, she found that teams with higher communication ratings had more medical errors.
Turns out, the most cohesive hospital teams reported making the most mistakes, not fewer. That surprised her until she realized: Maybe the better teams weren’t making more mistakes. Maybe they were more able and willing to talk about their mistakes.
This became Edmondson’ influential 1999 paper, titled “Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams.”*
According to Edmondson, a renowned organizational psychologist known for her work on psychological safety, the four zones of psychological safety—learning, comfort, apathy, and anxiety—represent different states or levels of psychological safety within a team or organization.
The Learning Zone is characterized by a high level of psychological safety, where team members feel comfortable taking risks and speaking up without the fear of negative consequences. They believe that their ideas and opinions are valued and respected. In the learning zone, individuals are motivated to explore new possibilities, share diverse perspectives, and engage in open and constructive discussions. As a result, this zone fosters a culture of continuous learning and growth, where mistakes are seen as opportunities for improvement rather than as failures.
The Comfort Zone represents a state of moderate psychological safety. Team members feel reasonably safe to express their thoughts and opinions but might hesitate to take more significant risks or challenge the status quo. In this zone, there is a balance between feeling secure enough to contribute and the willingness to step outside familiar territory. The comfort zone allows for some creativity and collaboration but may not fully encourage individuals to stretch their capabilities or explore new ideas where they don't counted accountable and motivated to take an action.
In the Apathy Zone, the level of psychological safety decreases, and individuals may become indifferent or disengaged. They may feel that their input is not valued, leading to a lack of motivation to contribute or participate actively in team activities. The apathy zone can arise when there is a perception that voicing opinions or making suggestions will have no significant impact. In this zone, individuals may avoid taking risks, leading to stagnation and complacency within the team.
The Anxiety Zone is characterized by a low level of psychological safety, where team members feel unsafe and vulnerable. They fear the potential negative consequences of speaking up or taking risks, which can lead to self-censorship and a reluctance to share ideas. In the anxiety zone, individuals might be hesitant to voice concerns or provide feedback, hindering communication and hindering effective collaboration. This zone is detrimental to team performance, as it fosters a culture of fear and stifles creativity and innovation.
Being Proactive is What We Have
It is evident that feeling psychologically safe creates an environment conducive to proactive behavior. When employees feel secure and valued in expressing their ideas and taking risks, they are more inclined to step forward and seize opportunities. Psychological safety empowers individuals to be proactive, actively seeking solutions and engaging in open discussions, knowing that their contributions are appreciated and that mistakes are seen as learning experiences. This proactivity, nurtured by psychological safety, not only enhances individual performance but also drives a culture of continuous improvement and innovation, ultimately leading to collective success and growth within the organization.