Diversity & inclusion8 min read

PREVIEW: Build trust and psychological safety in your team

Kaleidoscope from Hive Learning is a guided inclusion programme, designed to help leaders and managers build a more inclusive culture starting today. Delivered in a unique weekly cycle that helps users Understand, Practice, and Reflect, the programme gives managers a practical toolkit to make the small everyday changes critical for driving inclusive growth.

Here’s an exclusive preview of some of the content in the programme.

Building psychological safety

What do we mean by trust and psychological safety?

Trust is the essential starting point for true inclusion in your team.

By trust we mean more than just the essential faith in a person’s abilities, or a familiarity that comes from knowing someone for many years. We really mean a vulnerability trust sometimes called psychological safety where people feel comfortable to take interpersonal risks, like speaking up against a popular idea or giving feedback they know will be tough to hear. It’s both a climate and a shared belief which lays the foundation for every member of your team to bring their whole selves to work.

Understand

Get to grips with the importance of psychological safety, how it feels when done correctly and our four top tips to build it within your team, starting now.

Why psychological safety matters

The benefits of a safe team environment

Psychological safety has real, measurable benefits beyond simply building a sense of inclusiveness.

Harvard organisational behavioural scientist Amy Edmonson coined the term psychological safety in 1999, and her research found that the level of safety in a team predicted its effectiveness.

More recently a major internal study of team effectiveness at Google supported Edmonson’s findings. In 2012 Google set out to decode what makes the best teams tick, and their hypothesis was that the best teams were a result of putting the right people together. But data from studying 180 teams over several years indicated otherwise. In fact, the “who” doesn’t matter — the best teams are those with a certain set of norms and behaviours, by far the most important of which is psychological safety. Google now considers psychological safety the single most important factor in building a successful team.

How psychological safety feels

So how does psychological safety actually feel?  

Here are some real-world anecdotes:

“If I make a mistake on our team, it isn’t held against me.”

“I can ask questions without being afraid of being judged or sounding stupid.”

“I don’t feel like I always have to have all the answers in meetings.. it’s OK to admit I don’t know.”

“It’s never easy, but I give feedback to my boss and my peers when I spot something important they could improve.”

“I feel comfortable speaking up with a different opinion in meetings, even playing devil’s advocate sometimes.”

“When I make a mistake, I’m not berated or blamed for it. I know my boss will always give me the benefit of the doubt and work through how to fix it together.”

4 top tips for building psychological safety

4 top tips to build psychological safety in your team

💡 Be vulnerable, be human (it starts with you!)

  • Show that it’s OK to talk about emotions by sharing yours
  • Be candid and openly share your views, even when you suspect they may be unpopular
  • Admit to your own mistakes and failures, and frame these as learnings
  • Be humble and ask for feedback, and reach out for help or guidance when you need it

💡 Actively build a safe environment

  • Practice active listening and encourage it in others on your team (for more guidance on this, see our card on how to have better conversations, which you can find further into this topic to your left 👈)
  • Stop people from interrupting others in meetings
  • Make yourself available and approachable for quick chats and ad hoc meetings
  • When you spot it, publicly praise others for being open, being candid or giving feedback to encourage more of this
  • Make an effort to get to know about your teammates’ outside-of-work lives
  • Step in if you hear a teammate talking negatively about another teammate, and encourage them to personally share constructive feedback
  • Make an effort to draw out views from more introverted members of your team who don’t usually speak up

💡 Reframe failure

  • Reframe failure as an inevitable bump along the road towards success, and an opportunity to learn
  • Destigmatise failure by talking about it openly with the team when things go wrong rather than burying it (bonus: this will also accelerate the rate of learning)
  • Ban blame (not always easy if you’re angry!) – instead react to mistakes by getting curious. Ask your teammate what they think went wrong, what they think needs to happen next, how you can best support to fix it.

💡 Destigmatise feedback

  • Regularly ask for feedback yourself from your team
  • Share basic guidelines for how to give feedback with your team
  • Talk to your team about the importance of feedback, reframing it as necessary guidance (e.g.“When you care about a teammate, you can’t watch them fall flat on their face from the sidelines if you see something they could change or do better. We all have blind spots we need help seeing – and we need that crucial feedback to do our best work here.”)
  • Actively encourage your team to give each other feedback as a way to learn and grow

Build your team’s psychological safety

Try one of the two practices in the next week to build on your team’s level of safety.

Option 1: ask your team to open up to each other about their childhoods

Difficulty level: 😀 Easy (5-10 mins)

Spark a conversation about our childhoods at the beginning of your next team meeting. Don’t worry, this isn’t about asking anyone to reveal their soul. These three questions are unobtrusive but show that everyone is human. Crucially, they offer up some vulnerability.

  1. Where did you grow up?
  2. How many siblings do you have and where do you fall in that order?
  3. Describe a unique or interesting challenge or experience from your childhood.

To debrief, ask each team members to share what they learned about one another that they didn’t already know.

Option 2: use a personality profile tool as a team, and discuss the results

Difficulty level: 😐 Medium (20-30 mins)

Take a personality profile tool or psychometrics test as a team, such as Myers BriggsBig Five or DISC (👈 we’ve linked free versions).

It’s the conversations your team has about what they have learned from a personality profile that is significant. Host a dedicated session or carve out at least 15 minutes to cover in your next team meeting. Some questions to ask:

  • What has the profile exercise taught you about another member of the team that you didn’t know?
  • What are you going to change about how you interact with the team?

🌡️ Bonus practice: measure it!

If you want to get real data on how safe your team is, measure it using Amy Edmonson’s own assessment. Build a quick survey with the questions below, and ask people to rate the extent to which they agree with the following statements, on a four-point scale (i.e. strongly agree, slightly agree, slightly disagree, strongly disagree).

We recommend making this survey anonymous to allow for candid responses.

Psychological safety assessment

  1. If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  2. Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  3. People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  4. It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  5. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  6. No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  7. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilised.

Reflection

Measure safety in your team

Building psychological safety toolkit

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