The Best Books about Psychological Safety

Best Psychological Safety Books


Psychological Safety has been proven to be a key component of high performing teams, but it’s a relatively new concept that not a lot of people fully understand. It was first identified in the 90s by professor William Kahn. Psychological Safety is described at the ‘condition in which you feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo- all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized or punished in some way.” In essence, you feel safe to be yourself and voice your opinions in your team.

Since it is such a relatively new concept, a lot of books on psychological safety aren’t worth the I spent reading them. That is why I wanted to highlight the few books that are actually worthwhile. I have used these books as inspiration for my articles on Psychological Safety, like the 4 Questions that will Build Psychological Safety in Your Team. You can be assured that any book that is recommended on Caveman in a Suit is something that will actually help you be a better person, leader, or family member. With that in mind, these are the best books on Psychological Safety.

#1 = The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups (Daniel Coyle)

“The Culture Code” is one of my favorite books from the last 5 years, and I am seriously considering it for my Mount Rushmore of Leadership Books. The premise of the book is to understand where great cultures come from, and Coyle uses a variety of high performing teams to identify 3 core elements of a high performing culture: Psychological Safety, a willingness to be vulnerable, and a shared purpose.

While I had known about the concept of Psychological Safety from my Masters program, it was the “Culture Code” where I finally saw its importance at work. I rank this as the #1 book on Psychological Safety, because it’s a great introduction to the concept, and it gives some simple actions that all teams can take to be more psychologically safe. In fact, the “Culture Code” inspired my article on the 4 Questions that Build Psychological Safety.

Book Synopsis – Where does great culture come from? How do you build and sustain it in your group, or strengthen a culture that needs fixing? In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle goes inside some of the world’s most successful organizations—including the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, IDEO, and the San Antonio Spurs—and reveals what makes them tick. He demystifies the culture-building process by identifying three key skills that generate cohesion and cooperation, and explains how diverse groups learn to function with a single mind. Drawing on examples that range from Internet retailer Zappos to the comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade to a daring gang of jewel thieves, Coyle offers specific strategies that trigger learning, spark collaboration, build trust, and drive positive change. Coyle unearths helpful stories of failure that illustrate what not to do, troubleshoots common pitfalls, and shares advice about reforming a toxic culture. Combining leading-edge science, on-the-ground insights from world-class leaders, and practical ideas for action, The Culture Code offers a roadmap for creating an environment where innovation flourishes, problems get solved, and expectations are exceeded.

Culture is not something you are—it’s something you do. The Culture Code puts the power in your hands. No matter the size of your group or your goal, this book can teach you the principles of cultural chemistry that transform individuals into teams that can accomplish amazing things together.

Best Psychological Safety Books


#2 = The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation (Timothy Clark)

For those people ready for a deeper dive into Psychological Safety, this book is for you. It breaks down the concept into 4 key stages, and provides the reader core actions that will build safety in their team. I personally like the 4 stages, and think they are a simple way for leaders to help their teams. They are:

  1. Inclusion Safety – Everything starts by helping the person feel a part of the team. If they don’t feel as an included member of the team, they will never feel safe.
  2. Learner Safety – Once they feel like a part of the team, the person needs to feel safe to not have all the answers. It needs to be clear to everyone on the team that we all have things to learn and improve.

3. Contributor Safety – You hired people to speak up and contribute, not just be a silent member of the team. That is why it is critical to help them feel safe to share their ideas.

4. Challenger Safety – Finally, high performing teams are ones where ideas are vigorously debated, not just quietly accepted. That is why the final stage of Psychological Safety is to move beyond simple contributions, but feeling safe enough to challenge other people’s ideas.

Book Synopsis – This book is the first practical, hands-on guide that shows how leaders can build psychological safety in their organizations, creating an environment where employees feel included, fully engaged, and encouraged to contribute their best efforts and ideas.

Perhaps the leader’s most challenging task is to increase intellectual friction while decreasing social friction. When this doesn’t happen and it becomes emotionally expensive to say what you truly think and feel, that lack of psychological safety triggers the self-censoring instinct, shuts down learning, and blocks collaboration and creativity. Timothy R. Clark, a former CEO, Oxford-trained social scientist, and organizational consultant, provides a research-based framework to help leaders transform their organizations into sanctuaries of inclusion and incubators of innovation.

When leaders cultivate psychological safety, teams and organizations progress through four successive stages. Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring thoughtful and pragmatic guide demonstrates that if you banish fear, install true performance-based accountability, and create a nurturing environment that allows people to be vulnerable as they learn and grow, they will perform beyond your expectations.

Best Psychological Safety Books


#3 = The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth (Amy Edmondson)

Amy Edmondson is a professor at Harvard Business School, and is one of the leading researchers on Psychological Safety. I first heard of her through her interesting TED Talk on Psychological Safety, but then I started seeing her name referenced everywhere in books and articles. So, I knew that I had to give “The Fearless Organization” a try.

And I can say I am happy I did. Every chapter is filled with practical guidance on how to make people feel more safe, and it is all backed up by proven research. This is a great book to understand what she (and other researchers) are finding out on the cutting edge, and how you can apply it to your team.

Book SynopsisThe Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth offers practical guidance for teams and organizations who are serious about success in the modern economy. With so much riding on innovation, creativity, and spark, it is essential to attract and retain quality talent―but what good does this talent do if no one is able to speak their mind? The traditional culture of “fitting in” and “going along” spells doom in the knowledge economy. Success requires a continuous influx of new ideas, new challenges, and critical thought, and the interpersonal climate must not suppress, silence, ridicule or intimidate. Not every idea is good, and yes there are stupid questions, and yes dissent can slow things down, but talking through these things is an essential part of the creative process. People must be allowed to voice half-finished thoughts, ask questions from left field, and brainstorm out loud; it creates a culture in which a minor flub or momentary lapse is no big deal, and where actual mistakes are owned and corrected, and where the next left-field idea could be the next big thing. 

This book explores this culture of psychological safety, and provides a blueprint for bringing it to life. The road is sometimes bumpy, but succinct and informative scenario-based explanations provide a clear path forward to constant learning and healthy innovation. Explore the link between psychological safety and high performance. Create a culture where it’s “safe” to express ideas, ask questions, and admit mistakes. Nurture the level of engagement and candor required in today’s knowledge economy. Follow a step-by-step framework for establishing psychological safety in your team or organization

Shed the “yes-men” approach and step into real performance. Fertilize creativity, clarify goals, achieve accountability, redefine leadership, and much more. The Fearless Organization helps you bring about this most critical transformation.

Best Psychological Safety Books


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