This four-stage framework will help you learn what psychological safety is and why it's important in workplace settings.
If you’re interested in learning how to promote psychological safety in your organization, chances are you’re also interested in seeing some psychological safety examples to know what that could look like. We’ve created a number of different guides to help you get started on your psychological safety journey. This psychological safety in the workplace pdf contains over 120 concrete behaviors to help you implement psychologically safe behaviors on your teams. If you’re interested in implementing psychological safety in learning measures in your organization, The Complete Guide to Psychological Safety is a great jumping-off point. Have a virtual team? Learn how to create psychological safety in virtual teams here. Or, if you’re looking for something more model-specific, download our 4 stages of psychological safety pdf, which includes an excerpt of Timothy R. Clark’s book, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation.
Here are some psychological safety scenarios to look out for and implement as you determine the levels of psychological safety in your organization. You can even incorporate these scenarios into psychological safety workshop activities in your next training session:
Mistakes are raw material for growth and improvement. But not everyone sees them this way. In fact, not everyone is allowed to. High-stakes environments exist and are regulated areas for a reason. But outside of those areas, mistakes shouldn’t be punished. In fact, if we’re not making mistakes, we’re probably not pushing hard enough. It feels different to work in a space that celebrates learning and expects that mistakes will occur naturally in any innovative environment. Rewarding mistakes in your organization is a refreshing way to set yourselves apart from your competition.
No one should be expected to pretend like they don’t have a life outside of work. Things happen. That’s life. Support your colleagues in their personal lives so they know that they can share personal parts of themselves without fear of rejection, embarrassment, or uncomfortable pity. Work to infuse empathy into your team dynamic so that your teams feel safe being their authentic selves.
You'll rarely be good at anything you don't practice. It's unlikely that you'll get it right on the first try, so trying something new opens yourself up to failure. That’s vulnerable. A culture of psychological safety has a built-in safety net for teams to try new things without fear of being punished. Teams who operate under conditions of psychological safety understand that exploration isn’t a waste of time and are more willing to push boundaries to innovate.
As you add these types of exercises into your psychological safety toolkit, you’ll be better equipped to tackle tough problems because you’ll have the environment to support them.
Building an environment of psychological safety at work requires deliberate effort. Here are 4 steps to boost psychological safety at your workplace:
Remember that vulnerability is exposing yourself to the possibility of harm or loss. If you model and reinforce a pattern of vulnerability, others will do the same.
When you ask someone a question, it’s an invitation to engage. Telling can be fine too, but if you tell too much, it’s self-serving and it signals selfishness, arrogance, and dominance, all of which are off-putting.
A bias is a preference for or against a human characteristic, individual, or group of people. We all have them. Sometimes they’re hidden, and sometimes they’re obvious. Ask your team members if they can identify any patterns of negative bias in the team, then act to remove them.
Everyone’s busy, but if you make an effort to make yourself a little more available and interruptible, it sends a strong message that you value people more than tasks.
Most organizations try to assess their levels of psychological safety with a single question nestled in a broad engagement survey. But if you want to know how your culture is really doing, that’s just not going to cut it. You need a survey that is specific to psychological safety. Any other survey that tries to account for psychological safety will leave you wondering what’s next.
A psychological safety assessment tool is a fairly new and ridiculously powerful way to determine organizational health at its core. Maybe you’re measuring employee engagement, but your survey results are ambiguous when it comes to action. Or maybe you’re trying to implement agile strategies into your performance, but you keep falling short. That’s because you’re missing the critical foundation of psychological safety.
The most effective surveys can determine both what participants think, and what they feel. LeaderFactor’s psychological safety survey utilizes both qualitative and quantitative data to do just that. We’ll ask your team members a series of questions to determine if they feel included and safe to learn, contribute, and challenge the status quo. Then your teams will submit short pieces of direct feedback (confidentially, of course) to help you pinpoint specific areas of concern in your organization.
In just five minutes per participant, these psychological safety questions can give you insights into your organizational culture like you’ve never seen before. It’s not just a psychological safety questionnaire, it’s a tool to identify hidden pockets of toxicity, better understand the needs of your team members, and decide what steps you need to take to transform your culture. You can take a pilot team through the psychological safety quiz today, free of charge.
In 2014, Google conducted its “Project Aristotle” where the massive organization studied 180 of its own teams for a period of three years. They identified psychological safety as the defining characteristic of its most high-performing teams. This psychological safety theory, that a team’s success depends on its ability to make mistakes without fear of threat or harm, is transforming organizations all over the globe. The psychological safety Google study was a pivotal moment for leadership and management researchers everywhere. Leaders finally have a concrete answer to the question they had been asking for years: How do I unlock the potential of my teams?
Learning how to create psychological safety elevates any team in any organization. It promotes dynamic innovation where team members feel safe to challenge the status quo and learn new things. Psychological safety and inclusion also work hand-in-hand to create a culture of rewarded vulnerability where people feel safe to be their authentic selves at work. Leaders who implement psychological safety on their teams will find themselves ahead of the curve and ready to face dynamic challenges head-on.
You can create psychological safety in your organization by following Timothy R. Clark’s framework, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety. This framework acknowledges that we’re humans first and employees second. The framework follows a universal pattern that reflects the natural progression of human needs in social settings. These needs exist across demographics, psychographics, nations, and cultures.
Just like humans need water, food, and shelter to survive, teams that want to innovate need four things in order to thrive: they need to feel included and safe to learn, contribute, and challenge the status quo. Teams progress through these stages as they intentionally create cultures of rewarded vulnerability across psychological safety’s four stages.
Can you be your authentic self on your team? Inclusion safety satisfies the basic human need to connect and belong. In this stage worth precedes worthiness. All you have to do to qualify for inclusion safety is be human and harmless.
When you have inclusion safety you can bring your whole self to work. When you don’t, superiority and hierarchy dominate your company culture. Barriers are maintained and reinforced. You might be officially on a team, but you won’t feel part of the team without inclusion safety.
Do you have the space to grow? Learning and growing is a fundamental need that needs to be satisfied in order for innovation to flourish in an organization. In this stage, fear is detached from mistakes, and mistakes are rewarded as part of the learning process. But to qualify for learner safety you have to engage in the learning process, it won’t happen organically.
When you have learner safety in your organization learning is encouraged and celebrated. Learners are protected. When you don’t, mistakes are hidden and punished. Your team executes more than they innovate.
Can you create value for your team? Contributor safety satisfies the basic human need to make a difference and offer meaningful contributions. When we create contributor safety for others, we empower them with autonomy, guidance, and encouragement in exchange for effort and results.
When you have contributor safety in your organization your team thrives under outcome accountability. Roles are clearly defined, but people are encouraged to think outside of their roles. Small wins are celebrated. When you don’t, autonomy is given with little to no guidance, and team members may feel like benchwarmers.
Do you feel like you can be candid about change? Challenger safety satisfies the basic human need to make things better. When we create challenger safety, we give air cover (protection) in exchange for candor.
Challenger safety gives team members a voice to speak up when there is an opportunity to improve. People can disagree productively. When you don’t have challenger safety teams fall silent and people are punished for their bravery and candor.
A lack of psychological safety in the workplace can be determined by a number of factors, but is usually a result of an environment of punished vulnerability. While some forms of punishing vulnerability are macroscopic and clearly against organizational policy, others are microscopic and almost indetectable. This is why it’s so easy for complacent cultures with fearful employees to allow their team members to suffer. In these organizations punished vulnerability becomes so routine and consistent that you assume it’s how it’s always been, and how it’ll always be.
Some common acts of vulnerability include dismissing requests for help, reacting poorly to mistakes and failures, not taking “no” for an answer, asking someone to try something new without clear expectations, ignoring effort and expecting perfection, refusing to provide more resources for larger/new tasks, taking feedback poorly, and hutting down candor/challenges to the status quo.
This four-stage framework will help you learn what psychological safety is and why it's important in workplace settings.
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