If psychological safety is the #1 variable in team performance, how do you improve it? This is a good place to start. With 120+ practical, specific behaviors, this Behavioral Guide will help you know what to start, what to stop, and how to infuse healthy interaction into your work life. It's the companion to The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety by Timothy R. Clark, and your first stop on your way towards an actionable psychological safety initiative.
Our research shows that the manager has the biggest impact on a team’s level of psychological safety. So we’d recommend it to any leader in any organization. But this guide is for everyone. We let you know which behaviors are best for teams, managers and individuals.
This guide is meant to help you move from theory to practice quickly. Our suggestion? Pick a behavior from each of The 4 Stages (inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, challenger safety) and work on it. Then be intentional about making that behavior a habit for you.
Inclusion safety is the foundation of any culture of belonging. As the first stage of psychological safety, it activates the power of diversity and encourages team members to embrace what makes them, them. Inclusion safety satisfies the basic human need to connect and belong. Whether at work, school, home, or in other social settings, everyone wants to be accepted. In fact, the need to be accepted precedes the need to be heard.Learn More About Inclusion Safety
You’re valued for your individuality and can bring your whole, authentic self to work.
Superiority reinforces barriers and forces team members to edit what makes them unique.
Teach inclusion as human need and right. Inclusion isn’t something we earn; it’s something we’re owed. Teach your team members to approach each other with the understanding that we are entitled to the human need to be included.
Listen and pause. Have you ever been talking to someone and you can tell that they’re simply waiting for you to finish your sentence so they can jump in? Listen with intent to comprehend rather than the intent to respond. Do this by listening, pausing to reflect, and then responding thoughtfully.
Ask twice as much as you tell. When you ask someone a question, it’s an invitation to engage and a form of validation. 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.
Avoid comparisons and competitions. We lose the ability to connect when we compare and compete with each other. Identify and recognize the talents, and abilities of each person and point them out. Celebrate the strengths of others, especially when they are strengths you may not possess.
Express gratitude and appreciation. Your team members aren’t included and excluded as members of your team on the basis of success and failure. When team members perform well, express genuine gratitude and appreciation. When they try hard, but fail to meet their goals, recognize their efforts with empathy.
In this LeaderFactor Webinar Timothy R. Clark covers:
1) Why do humans exclude each other? 2) How do humans justify excluding each other? 3) What is a junk theory of superiority? 4) Applying worth vs. worthiness tests to each other 5) Creating a deeply inclusive culture through psychological safety
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. When it comes to learning, the goal for all organizations is the same: to achieve learning agility. Learning agility is the ability to learn at or above the speed of change.Learn More About Learner Safety
Conversely, a lack of learner safety triggers the self-censoring instinct, causing us to shut down, retrench and manage personal risk.
Share what you’re learning. One of the most powerful ways to encourage others to learn is to share what you’re learning. Share the topic, the insights, and most importantly the joy and satisfaction you have gained in the learning process. Your optimism and enthusiasm for learning is contagious.
Adopt a student mindset. Use the word student with your team. Students approach learning with humility and consistency and avoid complacency and arrogance. Help them understand that although we may develop expertise, we’re always learning and will never arrive at a place of permanent competency.
Share past mistakes. It’s hard to learn from mistakes if a team has a culture that hides its mistakes. Take the opportunity to mention some of your mistakes, laugh at them, and share what you learned from them. This will encourage others to be more comfortable sharing their mistakes, learning from them, and moving forward.
Frame problems before you solve problems. Teach your team to frame problems before they solve problems. Otherwise, we often end up solving the wrong problem. Find a problem and say, “I’d like you to help me frame this problem, not solve it. I want to make sure I’m defining the problem correctly first.”
Dedicate time and resources to learning. If you talk about the importance of learning but don’t dedicate any time or resources to it, it’s really not a priority. Formally allocate budget and dedicate time to learning. There’s no perfect approach. Just make sure that you offer everyone consistent resources and time.
What if employee engagement is actually a symptom of something else? What if there's another factor further back in the causal chain, something that explains employee engagement?
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.Learn More About Contributor Safety
Micromanaging dissects autonomy into a series of tasks to be completed.
Recognize accomplishment. Certainly accomplishment is its own reward, but receiving genuine recognition from your peers makes it all the sweeter. As a leader, recognize the successes of your team quickly. Never delay or resent the opportunity to show genuine excitement for their accomplishments.
Celebrate small wins. Small wins increase confidence and build momentum. When your team members see a series of small wins, it creates a sense of forward motion. Ultimate success may be a way off, but it’s the small wins that fuel the team members’ efforts to continue contributing at a high level.
Shift from tell to ask. A leader’s coaching continuum ranges from telling at one end to asking at the other. A good leader uses the entire continuum. Too much telling breeds dependency and learned helplessness. Shift as much as you can to the ask end. Lead through questions more than answers.
Help others see their strengths. Many team members deliver mediocre performance because they don’t realize their strengths. Identify the hidden or undervalued strengths that your team members have and bring them to their attention. This will ignite the desire to contribute more.
Ask people what they think. Ask a team member, “What do you think?” Those four simple words invite contribution and increase confidence in the process. Don’t say those words when you don’t really mean it. At the same time, don’t move to a decision or action without asking, even if you think you know the right answer.
In our recent podcast series on The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety, Timothy R. Clark gives listeners four models to consider as they navigate contributor safety in their circles of influence. These models will help you find the gap between where you are, and where you can be.
Challenger safety satisfies the basic human need to make things better. It’s the support and confidence we need to ask questions such as, “Why do we do it this way?” “What if we tried this?” or “May I suggest a different way?” Challenger safety gives team members a voice to speak up when there is an opportunity to improve. People can disagree productively. When we create challenger safety, we give air cover (protection) in exchange for candor.Learn More About Challenger Safety
You have a silent team that’ll execute for you, but is scared to innovate.
Take your finger off the fear button. Fear triggers a self-censoring instinct that causes people to retreat into silence. When a leader uses fear, it’s normally a punitive response borne of frustration and insecurity. More importantly, it’s an abdication of leadership.
Respond constructively to disruptive ideas and bad news. Your positive emotional response to disruptive ideas and bad news is a clear signal that you have a high tolerance for candor and will protect your people in their right to dissent.
Weigh in last. Speaking first when you hold positional power softly censors your team. Listen carefully, acknowledge the contributions of others, and then register your point of view.
Encourage others to think beyond their roles. Inviting your people to venture out of their tactical and functional silos creates more opportunity for divergent thinking and allows them to connect things that aren’t normally connected. Manage the process carefully and discern when constructive dissent is giving way to destructive derailment.
Model the art of disagreement. Having challenger safety means that the members of your team can debate issues on their merits and find the best one without creating fear and interpersonal conflict. It’s your job to teach them how to have marvelous disagreement to create this idea meritocracy.
Collaboration is human collision, and unsurprisingly, causes friction. Here are some psychologically safe behaviors that will help to keep intellectual friction high and social friction low on your team: