Psychological Safety Tools and Resources
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What does it take to build (or weaken) an enthusiastic, motivated and high-performing workforce?
Chances are that you have at some point been in a team environment and someone has asked a question or had an idea and has expressed it to the team, only to be met with silence, confusion, negativity, or even open ridicule.
Chances are that, in a subsequent meeting, this person would hold back from expressing their thoughts or ideas for fear of encountering the same thing.
This means that, in the future, when you or a team member asks the team what they really think, some people will not share their thoughts, feelings or ideas but will instead stay silent.
So how do you change this? How do you create an environment where your team feel safe to share their opinions, ideas, thoughts, concerns, problems or observations? How do you create a climate in which speaking up is enabled, encouraged and even expected?
And when the success of your business relies on learning, knowledge sharing, error reporting or innovation, take a moment to ask yourself this one question:
How do I ensure that my team are engaged, free to innovate and collaborating and working together creatively?
STOP thinking that silence or a lack of comment mean your team feel psychologically safe.
START creating a culture where everyone feels safe to share and collaborate.
The one ‘BREAKTHROUGH QUESTION’ you must ask to help yourself…
How do I ensure that my team are engaged, free to innovate and collaborating and working together creatively?
This question jumps right to the heart of why psychological safety matters.
But first – what is psychological safety?
Psychological safety refers to a shared belief within your team that it is safe for one or all of them to take interpersonal risks, to speak up or express themselves without fear of negative consequences.
It is about creating an environment where individuals feel comfortable being themselves, sharing ideas and actively contributing to the overall goals and objectives of the business and the team.
In a psychologically safe environment, your team are free to say what they think and feel and, in addition, they are listened to and valued. Their opinions and perspectives matter because they know they are helping to shape the future of your business.
When it works, your team will be confident taking risks, asking questions, admitting mistakes and suggesting ideas, even innovative, left-of-field ideas, knowing that they will not be mocked, insulted or laughed at for making suggestions.
Does this happen in your business?
What does an ‘unsafe’ business look like?
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Psychological safety is crucial for team togetherness and for the overall prosperity and success of your business.
It is a phrase that has grown in prominence and importance over the last few years, especially post-Covid, as the growth in remote working has meant that teams don’t spend as much time physically together as they had previously.
Psychological safety is fundamental to an environment of communication, collaboration, creativity and learning within your team. When your team feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to share information, provide constructive feedback and engage in productive discussions. This can lead to better problem-solving and decision-making, which will enhance the overall performance of your business.
Creating psychological safety requires you as the business leader or manager to cultivate an inclusive and supportive environment. It involves building trust, promoting open communication, actively listening to others, encouraging diverse perspectives and valuing contributions from all of your team members. It also requires addressing any disrespectful or discriminatory behaviour promptly and promoting a culture of learning from mistakes, rather than blaming or punishing individuals.
When psychological safety is lacking, individuals may hesitate to speak up or take risks due to the fear of being judged, criticised or punished. This can stifle creativity, limit participation and hinder teamwork.
It may also lead to a culture of silence, where important issues and concerns go unaddressed, potentially resulting in missed opportunities or even serious errors.
A business that is not psychologically safe normally exhibits obvious characteristics that create a culture of fear, lack of support and negativity, where your team feels that they are disregarded, overlooked and taken for granted, where their opinions are not valued and don’t matter…
Here are the characteristics to look out for – if any of these are evident in your business then you are not creating a safe environment for your team:
Fear of speaking up – Do your team hesitate or feel nervous to express their opinions or ideas due to a fear of being shot down or punished? How loud is the silence in your team meetings?
Lack of trust – How trusting of each other are your team members? How trusting of your team are you and what is the level of trust of your team towards you? I know that this is a lot of trust to be going around, but distrust creates secrets, negativity, fear and a feeling within your team that what has been said may come back to bite them at some point. Vulnerabilities can only truly be expressed if there is trust within your team.
Blame culture – Nothing shuts a team down quicker than blame. Mistakes happen in any business, but when mistakes are not viewed as an opportunity to learn and are used to point a finger, humiliate and ridicule a team member, then they are going to continue to happen.
Micromanagement – Closely watching and controlling your team’s every move creates a lack of autonomy, initiative or decision-making within your team – this leads to a feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ in your team and hampers confidence and development.
Lack of support – Lack of, or absence of, feedback and guidance means your team does not grow, develop or fulfil their potential and eventually some team members will get bored and frustrated and will leave.
High churn – All of the above will lead to this inevitable consequence as team members look for a better work environment where they are engaged, appreciated and valued and where they can grow and develop in their roles.
Have a good look at the way you run your business – the environment you have created for your team and the way your team members interact with you and with each other.
Remember, if any of the above behaviours exist in your business, you will not be fostering creativity, collaboration and innovation. When you address these issues, you create a healthier, more productive and psychologically safer working environment.
The importance of psychological safety…
"Safety and security don't just happen; they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear." – Nelson Mandela
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to create a psychologically safe working environment for your team, it’s good to know why it matters, why it’s important and why it’s worth the investment.
Your business is operating in uncertain times, with rises in costs and in inflation and interest rates, governmental changes and the changing working conditions that have been put in place since the pandemic.
The consequence of all of this is an increase in anxiety, depression, fear and stress, and people struggle to cope with the rigors of daily life. Our feelings of physical and economic security are challenged. As a business leader, you are confronted with these challenges on a daily basis, on both a professional and personal level.
In your business, these challenges can often be related to an individual, to your whole team or to the future of your business.
When you create and foster a culture and environment of psychological safety in your business, your team will feel comfortable, safe and secure. They will feel free to express themselves without judgment, be willing to take risks, share ideas and challenge the status quo without fear of negative consequences to their self-image, status or career development.
This means that, in all of the chaos, you create some calm for your team, a place where they feel really valued, listened to and appreciated, where they can and do make a difference and where their ideas and contribution to the business really matter.
For you this is a win-win situation. By making your team feel safe, you create a highly engaged, positive and motivated team whose members want to work hard in your business, not only for the rest of the team but also for the future success of your business.
Here are some of the key measures which demonstrate why psychological safety is important:
- Increased innovation and creativity
- Enhanced collaboration
- Effective communication
- Increasing learning and growth
- Higher employee engagement
- Higher employee and team satisfaction
- Enhanced employee development
- Lower team churn rate
- Healthy team working environment
- Healthy conflict resolution
- Increased problem-solving and problem resolution
- Positive team well-being and mental health
- A diverse and inclusive workforce
Psychological safety is crucial for creating a positive and thriving work environment. It promotes open communication, collaboration, innovation and team well-being, all of which contribute to the long-term success of your business. Why wouldn’t you make time to invest in it?
When you do, you unlock the full people-potential of your team and cultivate a culture that encourages growth, creativity and continuous improvement.
Disney Pixar lead the way
Images from Google and disney.com
“Reach for the sky!” – Woody, Toy Story
Disney Pixar – you have heard of them, of course, and if you are young enough or have children or grandchildren, you will have watched one or more of their films.
Disney Pixar was created in 1986 and in 1995 released its first computer-animated film, Toy Story. The film was an unprecedented success and not only became the highest-grossing film of that year, but gave the studio, Pixar, the highest-grossing debut film ever. Since then, Pixar has had 19 hit movies, including Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, Cars, Brave, Up, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and, of course, Toy Story 2, 3 and 4.
In such a cut-throat world, this level of success over such a long period of time is rare. How have they managed to create a steady stream of box office hits, all of which are enjoyed by parents and children alike?
In her book, The Fearless Organisation, Amy Edmondson states that “Pixar have generated their success through leadership that creates conditions where both creativity and criticism can flourish.”
She goes on to say, “Pixar may be in the business of creating and animating stories, but the way the company works offers lessons about psychological safety that, much like their movies, are universal”.
Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull puts the success of the studio, in part, down to candour. He believes “that when candour is present in the workplace, as part of the culture, people don’t feel silenced. They say what’s on their minds and share ideas, opinions, mistakes and criticisms.” He calls this “speaking noisily”.
In order to make this best practice within the business, Catmull introduced the concept of the Pixar Braintrust.
The Braintrust is designed to foster collaboration, creativity and innovation within the studio. The Braintrust consists of several key individuals, including directors, producers and other creative personnel, who come together periodically to review and critique each other's work.
The Disney Pixar Braintrust is an important component of the creative process at Pixar Animation Studios and this group of influential and trusted individuals within Pixar provide creative guidance and feedback on the studio's projects.
Within the Braintrust, psychological safety plays a crucial role. The members of the Braintrust, despite their individual talents and achievements, are encouraged to approach the feedback sessions with an open mind, humility and a willingness to accept constructive criticism. They create an environment where ideas can be freely shared and debated, without the fear of personal attacks or harsh judgment.
Psychological safety within the Braintrust allows for open and honest discussions, where individuals feel comfortable expressing their opinions, challenging existing ideas and taking creative risks. This dynamic enables the Braintrust to collectively identify potential issues, refine storylines and enhance the overall quality of the films being produced.
By fostering psychological safety, the Braintrust promotes a culture of trust, respect and collaboration. It encourages diverse perspectives and ideas, ultimately leading to the creation of richer and more engaging storytelling. This approach has been instrumental to Pixar's success, as it helps the studio to overcome creative hurdles and to push boundaries, enabling them to consistently produce high-quality films that resonate with audiences.
The Disney Pixar Braintrust harnesses the power of psychological safety by creating an environment where individuals feel safe to express their ideas, challenge existing concepts and take creative risks. This approach builds collaboration and innovation, and ultimately contributes to the studio's success in producing critically acclaimed animated films.
Do you have anything like this in your business? Maybe you could start something similar?
Why do I need psychological safety?
"The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants it." – Patrick Lencioni
I am sure that you, as an owner of a business, or as a leader or manager, understand the advantages of building psychological safety in your business. But it can be helpful to understand how your individual team members react when they feel psychologically safe. Here are a few of the reasons why YOU need to create a psychologically safe culture in your business:
Self-expression – Psychological safety allows your team to be themselves without fear of judgment or negative consequences. It gives them the confidence to express their thoughts, ideas and emotions openly, nurturing a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Risk-taking and innovation – When your team feels psychologically safe, they are more likely to take risks and explore new possibilities. This opens up opportunities for personal and professional growth, as they will be willing to step outside their comfort zone, try new approaches and pursue innovative ideas.
Learning and development – Psychological safety supports a culture of continuous learning. It encourages your team to seek feedback, ask questions and admit their mistakes without feeling ashamed or incompetent. This mindset of growth and improvement can lead to accelerated learning and greater development in their skills and knowledge.
Collaboration and teamwork – When you build a psychologically safe environment, your team are more likely to work together and enjoy the collaborative process, as they will feel comfortable contributing ideas, actively participating in discussions and engaging in constructive debates. For your business, the result is a stronger connection within your team, greater cooperation and a sense of collective achievement.
Psychological well-being – Psychological safety contributes to the overall mental and emotional well-being of your team and its members. You will notice a reduction in stress, anxiety and fear associated with negative social interactions. Your team will no longer guard their words and actions. Ensuring your team feels safe in their environment will enhance their job satisfaction, enthusiasm and engagement and will decrease the chance of burnout.
Empowerment and autonomy – When you build psychological safety, you are effectively empowering your team to make their own decisions and take ownership of their work. As a consequence, they will feel trusted and respected, enhancing their sense of autonomy and control over their tasks and responsibilities.
Resilience and adaptability – Psychological safety helps your team build resilience and adaptability. It allows them to bounce back from setbacks, learn from failures and embrace challenges without the fear of severe consequences. This resilience enables them to navigate uncertainties and changes more effectively.
Psychological safety is crucial for the personal and professional growth, well-being and success of your team and business. It empowers your team to express themselves authentically, take risks, collaborate effectively and continuously learn and develop. By creating a sense of safety, you create a culture where you and your team can thrive.
The 4 stages of psychological safety
“The presence of fear in an organisation is the first sign of weak leadership” – Timothy R. Clark
Timothy R. Clark, author and expert in leadership development, has proposed a four-stage model for psychological safety in his book, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation. According to Clark, these stages represent the journey that your team must go on to truly cultivate psychological safety in your business. The four stages are as follows:
1. Inclusion Safety: In this stage, your team members feel included and accepted. They will experience a sense of belonging and acceptance within your team, and there will be a notable absence of interpersonal threats. Inclusion safety establishes the foundation for psychological safety by fostering an environment where the individual members of your team feel valued and respected.
The members of your team all want to feel included and to belong; no one comes to work wanting to be the outcast or to be ridiculed and rejected. And human nature dictates that the individuals in your team need to be accepted before they are really listened to, so essentially the first stage is about your team members feeling comfortable in each other’s presence. Achieving this stage means your team members have accepted, included and welcomed one another – without discrimination regarding gender, age, social background, sexual orientation, neurodiversity or anything else.
2. Learner Safety: The second stage is focused on learning and growth. Your team members must feel safe to ask questions, share ideas and voice their opinions without fear of judgment or criticism. You will need to create a culture of curiosity, where individual members of your team are encouraged to seek knowledge, challenge assumptions and explore new possibilities. Learner safety promotes a growth mindset and encourages continuous improvement.
Your team will feel able to ask questions, give and receive feedback, experiment and make mistakes. Your team members at this stage will provide feedback to each other and ask for feedback themselves, free from fear.
3. Contributor Safety: In this stage, your team members will feel safe to contribute their unique perspectives and talents. They will be galvanised by the knowledge that their ideas and contributions will be welcomed and valued by the rest of your team. There will be a strong sense of empowerment and ownership, and individuals will be encouraged to take risks, innovate and take initiative. Contributor safety enables your individual team members to fully engage and bring their best selves to the team.
In this environment, all will feel able to participate, to contribute ideas and suggestions and to raise threats and risks using members’ individual talents and abilities to contribute to the team without fear. At this stage, ‘retrospectives’, ‘lessons learned’ and ‘post-mortems’ will become very powerful practices.
4. Challenger Safety: According to Clark, the final stage of psychological safety is challenger safety. In this stage, your team members will feel safe to challenge the status quo, offer dissenting viewpoints and engage in healthy debate. There must be an atmosphere of trust and respect, where diverse perspectives are encouraged and conflicting ideas are seen as opportunities for growth. Challenger safety promotes innovation, critical thinking and constructive conflict within your team.
You and your team will be able to challenge the way in which the team works, to come up with new ways of working and behaviours and challenge the ideas of other team members – even the ideas of the team’s senior members.
This is the most powerful “stage” of psychological safety in Timothy R. Clark’s opinion, as it not only allows new ideas to surface and learning from mistakes to occur, but it can prevent potentially bad ideas from getting to the real world. You could argue that disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig and the VW emissions scandal may not have occurred if the teams in those businesses had possessed challenger safety.
These four stages provide a roadmap for you as the leaders and managers of your business to build psychological safety, enabling your team to feel safe, empowered and supported in their interactions, leading to increased engagement, collaboration and innovation.
All adapted from Timothy R. Clarks book, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety.
Timothy R. Clarks 4 stages model 1
How do you create psychological safety in your business?
“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” – Nagiub Mahfou.
Creating a sense of psychological safety in your business is crucial for fostering a positive and productive work environment. Here are some strategies to help you achieve that:
Encourage open communication: Establish a culture where everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts, ideas and concerns. Encourage active listening, empathy and respect for different perspectives. Create an environment where employees feel safe to share their opinions without fear of ridicule or retribution.
Lead by example: As the leader of your business, you play a critical role in setting the tone for psychological safety. When you show vulnerability, admit mistakes and demonstrate a willingness to learn from others, it demonstrates openness and humility and encourages your team to do the same.
Foster teamwork and collaboration: Encourage collaboration among your team members by promoting cross-functional projects, team-building activities and opportunities for shared decision-making. When employees feel that they are part of a supportive team, they are more likely to speak up and contribute.
Provide constructive feedback: Create a feedback culture that emphasises growth and improvement rather than blame or criticism. Teach managers and team members how to deliver effective feedback that focuses on specific behaviours and outcomes, offering suggestions for improvement. This will help your team feel supported and motivated to take risks so that they learn from their experiences.
Establish clear expectations and boundaries: Clearly communicate the goals, objectives and performance expectations to your team. When they know what is expected of them, it reduces ambiguity and increases their confidence in their roles. Additionally, ensure that boundaries are set and respected, preventing any form of harassment or discrimination.
Invest in employee development: Support ongoing training and development opportunities for employees. This shows that you value their growth and well-being, and it helps them build skills and confidence in their roles. Provide resources and encourage employees to pursue learning and professional development initiatives.
Recognize and celebrate achievements: Acknowledge and appreciate the efforts and accomplishments of individuals and teams. Celebrate milestones, recognise exceptional work and foster a culture of appreciation. This boosts morale, enhances job satisfaction and reinforces the sense of psychological safety.
Address conflicts promptly: Create a process for resolving conflicts and grievances in a fair and impartial manner. Promptly address issues and concerns raised by any member of your team, ensuring that their voices are heard and respected. By addressing conflicts, you prevent the escalation of tensions and maintain a safe work environment.
Remember, building psychological safety is an ongoing process. It requires consistent effort and a commitment to nurturing a culture of trust and respect throughout your business.
The book and other resources
The Fearless Organization – Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth
Amy C. Edmondson
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 candour required in today’s knowledge economy
- Follow a step-by-step framework for establishing psychological safety in your team or organisation
What people are saying about this book:
"Organizations today depend on talent, but there are many reasons that talent alone is not enough. The only way human capacities can truly flourish is in an atmosphere free of fear. Amy Edmondson has devoted 20 years to understanding psychological safety in organizations — and in this timely, important book she shares what she's learned. She identifies the ways fear can stifle creativity and teamwork — and then offers smart, practical advice for overcoming these obstacles and building an organization free of fear. This is a book that every leader should read and heed." —Daniel H. Pink, author of WHEN, The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing and DRIVE, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
"The overwhelming message of Amy's book is this: leadership calls us to create workplaces where people feel safe to share ideas and mistakes are embraced as opportunities to learn. Build an organization free of fear and watch remarkable things happen. Not only is it the right thing to do, it's the ultimate competitive advantage!" —Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller and author of Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family.
The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety – Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation
Timothy R. Clark
Fear has a profoundly negative impact on engagement, learning efficacy, productivity and innovation, but until now there has been a lack of practical information on how to make employees feel safe about speaking up and contributing. Timothy Clark, a social scientist and an organisational consultant, provides a framework to move people through successive stages of psychological safety. The first stage is inclusion safety – the team accepts you and grants you shared identity. Learner safety, the second stage, indicates that you feel safe to ask questions, experiment, and even make mistakes. Next is the third stage of contributor safety, where you feel comfortable participating as an active and full-fledged member of the team. Finally, the fourth stage is challenger safety, which allows you to take on the status quo without repercussion, reprisal or the risk of tarnishing your personal standing and reputation. This is a blueprint for how any leader can build positive, supportive and encouraging cultures in any setting.
What people are saying about this book:
"There are gems in this book which will stick with me. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about themselves and the world they live in. I also, on a side note, suggest that The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety should be a handbook for every educator in the country." —D.L. Gardner, The Magic Pen
"This is not just a book; it's an urgent invitation to the kind of rigorous self-examination that will lead to breakthroughs in every relationship of your life. Clark offers us a case for and path to creating the healthy social systems we crave and modern corporate flourishing demands." —Joseph Grenny, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Crucial Conversations
"The 4 stages framework is exceptionally insightful and perfectly logical. With the ongoing diversification of the workplace, Clark's defined path to inclusion and innovation can't be ignored. This book showed me how to improve my performance as both a team member and leader. The analysis and recommendations are insightful and inspiring." —Martin Shell, Vice President and Chief External Relations Officer, Stanford University
Building a psychologically safe workplace – Amy Edmondson
In this video Amy Edmondson gives three examples of individuals – a nurse, a pilot and a senior executive – who had reservations and concerns about workplace incidents where a voice was necessary but where silence won. She talks about the importance of psychological safety – a culture of openness, where errors are actually discussed and there is no fear attached to challenging conversations within a team. Mistakes are seen as a learning opportunity. It’s a great insight into the importance of building psychological safety in your business.
Watch this Outside In podcast – Live with Charles Travail and Amy Edmondson. Amy joins the podcast to talk about her latest book, The Fearless Organization. She says that “psychological safety describes a climate at work where one believes that you can freely speak up with any idea, concern, question, even mistakes.” It’s “a sense of permission for candour.” She explains the benefits of creating psychological safety in the workplace and why it’s essential for learning, innovation and growth.
If you want to delve further into the subject of psychological safety and the 4 stages mentioned in Timothy R. Clark’s book, then please check out this Ntroduced Webinar featuring Dr Timothy Clark: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety:
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