For psychological safety to work for teams, everyone has to commit to it — including leaders and team members. To develop a culture where psychological safety is the norm, managers can try out these four psychological safety exercises:
Pose a check-in question
Make a practice of taking 3 minutes at the beginning of meetings to pose a non-work-related, check-in question to participants. This allows people to see each other from a different angle and as whole people rather than just a role.
Host an Anxiety Party
This term is a practice used by the Google Ventures design team. It creates a structure for bringing anxieties out in the open. It also normalises vulnerability and uncertainty. Have each person spend 10 minutes writing down all the work- and project-related anxieties they felt. Then go around the circle, and share their biggest anxiety. Let their colleagues rank each anxiety on a scale of 0 (not troubling at all) to 5 (I strongly believe you need to improve this area). These parties are not about problem-solving — they give people a structure for sharing and building trust with peers.
Make use of pre-work, silent individual reflection, and writing down ideas prior to having a group begin brainstorming or weighing in on someone's work. This allows people to participate equally. It also works against the "piling on" that happens when a powerful voice moves in one direction and suddenly everyone else agrees.
Share your stories
Employees follow the lead set by the leaders. When a manager shares their mistakes or struggles, the team has a model for how to share and be supportive of each other. Being vulnerable is not the same as not having a filter. As a leader, be clear about what your intent is in sharing a story. It should be to build trust and deepen your relationship with the team, not to unburden yourself.
Key actions for developing a culture of psychological safety
Psychological safety does not just come from the top. Team members need to take responsibility for creating a better environment for each other.
Practice active listening during meetings and brainstorming sessions
Ask thought-provoking, open-ended questions
Give support and ask for support when needed
Show empathy, care, and concern for each other
Praise, encourage, and express gratitude for one another
Express their creative ideas and politely encourage others to do the same
Give each other the benefit of the doubt when expressing challenges