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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.

  • Start alone

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


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