MaST Business Forum - Psychological Safety - Is this the new ‘must have’ for high accountability organisations? - Summary


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MaST Business Forum - Psychological Safety - Is this the new ‘must have’ for high accountability organisations? - Summary

11th May 2016


Our innovative Forum in the North West explored the need for innovation and the challenge that this can be for safety conscious and reliability focused organisations.  The language of accountability is essential.  MaST work extensively with complex organisations which face the challenge of combining ‘Safe Systems of Work’ with a demanding and fast changing work environment.  ‘Accountability’ can be a ‘two edged sword’!  The Forum explored:


  • The pressure on organisations from external Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity and Ambiguity
  • The local pressures on ‘high accountability’ organisations - both internal and external
  • The impact of these pressures on individual and organisation resilience
  • The need to innovate in order to cope with the changing environment, but at the same time recognise the pressures to minimise and often avoid risk


Our Forum referenced the work of Amy Edmondson, Harvard Professor of Leadership.  Her definition is:


“Psychological Safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas; raising questions; raising concerns or making mistakes.”


The Forum delegates were interested in the impact of these pressures on the behaviour of managers and professionals.  Did their desire to be seen as competent; helpful and accommodating sometimes stop them asking questions; being critical of potentially dangerous decisions or owning up to mistakes? We found that ‘Impression Management’ by individual managers and professionals often got in the way of good problem solving.  And organisations that put a high value on ‘Accountability’ without ‘Psychological Safety’ tended towards a blame culture with micro-management and high levels of stress.


In the second half of the Forum delegates explored the difference between the assumptions that underpin the ‘Unilateral’ approach to dialogue and the more helpful characteristics of the assumptions which underpin the ‘Mutual Learning’ dialogue.  These communication behaviours (and assumptions) have been well authenticated recently in neuroscience.  We used a practical case study based on the recent Junior Doctors negotiation to illustrate the differences, and delegates saw an immediate application to their organisations.


We also looked at an organisation development approach to creating the structures and processes which support ‘Accountability’ with ‘Psychological Safety’ in fast changing environments, these include:


  • Distributed Leadership
  • Project Management
  • Solution Focused Negotiation


Should you wish to discuss ‘Psychological Safety’ or any of these topics please do call on 0800 316 9090, email or visit