How To Create Psychologically Safe Environments  

In her research, pioneering researcher Amy Edmondson  found that in order to create psychological safety, leaders had to implement both behavioural and structural changes – consistently and continuously. She provides the first and last steps as a general framework that will open the door for the conversation to begin. 

  1. Set the Stage: Let’s assume you’re starting at zero. Perhaps up until now, the workplace hasn’t been a space for taking risks or challenging ideas. The first thing you’ll want to do is to define your intentions and vision (e.g. create an environment of candor or create an innovative product), and share that with your team. You should explain your vision or ideal end-state, what you hope to accomplish or change by beginning this initiative, how it can be achieved, and open up the floor for people to discuss their reactions or ask questions. 
  1. Admit Mistakes: Leading by example is critical and one powerful way to do this is by admitting your own mistakes. In the early stages of any massive change, there are bound to be missteps – by being vulnerable and transparent about these times, you can inspire trust. And beyond that, you can show your employees that everyone makes mistakes, and that its okay for them to make mistakes – they don’t have to misplace blame or cover it up in fear of negative repercussions. 
  1. Elicit Feedback: One of the earliest structural changes that you can make is setting aside a dedicated time to check-in: “How is X effort progressing? What went well? What can we improve?” The format of this feedback session will depend on your team – while some leaders prefer face-to-face sessions to strengthen the relationships and ask thoughtful follow-up questions, others may find that people are more candid when delivering their feedback in another format. 

Read also: Why Managers and Leaders Should Create Psychologically Safe Environments

  1. Embrace Criticism: In her book, Edmondson found that one executive leader at a hospital discovered that asking, “Was everything as safe as it could be?” as opposed to “Did you see hazards?” or “Did someone make a mistake?” led to more engaged and profound discussions. Many people aren’t necessarily primed to elaborate beyond the absence of failure so challenging their automatic response can lead to more thoughtful responses. By assuming that the current state was one that could be improved, this leader was able to elicit meaningful ideas that sparked positive change. 
  1. Respond Productively: Providing virtual suggestion boxes that go unanswered isn’t sufficient. To facilitate feelings of safety, employees have to know that their leaders receive and respond appropriately to feedback and criticism. If it becomes evident over time that no changes are made as a result of the feedback, people will eventually stop engaging. Alternatively, when people see that they can share their critical feedback, new ideas, and toughest challenges, and that their leaders will support them, brainstorm and help find solutions, they’re more likely to continue sharing. 

If this seems like a massive undertaking, inclusio can help by gathering the D&I metrics at your organisation both qualitatively and quantitatively in an anonymous format where employees feel able to honestly express themselves. inclusio doesn’t stop at psychological safety, either – we offer deep demographic and scientific benchmarks that identifies gaps and tells you where to take targeted action.