In today’s dynamic work landscape, fostering a culture of psychological safety is akin to preparing for a marathon; it’s not merely a progressive ideal but a foundational cornerstone for organizational success. Much like a marathon requires steadfast preparation and endurance, establishing psychological safety demands continuous effort and commitment from every team member. Backed by robust research and highlighted by Google’s seminal study, psychological safety stands as a linchpin for open dialogue, fueling creativity, and enabling every team member to contribute without fear of reprisal.
For HR and DEI leaders aiming to create an inclusive and thriving workplace, applying the concept of psychological safety is crucial. We delved into this significant topic in our recent webinar, “Breaking Silos, Building Trust: Nurturing Psychological Safety Within Teams.” The session brought together HR and DEI professionals who frame what constitutes psychological safety, what doesn’t, the path to achieving it, and how our partner organizations are effectively deploying these strategies.
Maintaining Balance on the Path to Psychological Safety in Teams
Psychological safety is foundational for creating environments where employees are heard and valued. It stands for empowerment in expression, embracing vulnerability, and building trust and support. However, it doesn’t mean avoiding accountability, endorsing excessive risk-taking, or promoting unquestioning acceptance.
For HR and DEI professionals, incorporating this balanced approach is essential. It not only unlocks diverse perspectives and stimulates innovation but also accelerates organizational success. The goal is to cultivate a culture where every voice matters, expression is empowered, and vulnerability is respected, while maintaining accountability and mitigating undue risks in every corner of the organization.
Journeying Through the 4 Stages of Psychological Safety in the Work Environment
In the realm of organizational development, Clark’s 4 stages of psychological safety serve as a pivotal framework for HR professionals aiming to cultivate inclusive and thriving workplace environments. This model guides us through the sequential stages in achieving psychologically safe workplaces:
Step 1: Inclusion Safety
Building trust and openness within teams by ensuring every member feels valued and respected.
Step 2: Learner Safety
Encouraging a culture of continuous learning and risk-taking, where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth.
Step 3: Contributor Safety
Fostering an environment where team members feel empowered to express ideas and concerns without fear of backlash.
Step 4: Challenger Safety
Going beyond psychological safety to embrace constructive challenges and diversity of thought, promoting innovation and progress.
Each stage represents a progressive step toward fostering a culture where individuals feel included, valued, and empowered to innovate. For HR practitioners, understanding and implementing these stages is essential, as they lay the foundation for building trust, promoting learning, encouraging contribution, and facilitating constructive challenge within the team dynamics.
Five Actionable Strategies for Building Psychological Safety
For organizations striving to create an inclusive and harmonious environment, it’s important to foster open dialogue and ensure every team member feels valued and heard. Below, we present five actionable tips aimed at HR and DEI leaders to enhance psychological safety within their teams, thereby promoting both individual well-being and a collective sense of empowerment and innovation. *
Strategies to Build Psychological Safety:
1. Approach Conflict With Intent to Problem Solve
Avoid triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by taking a collaborative approach, which prioritizes working toward a mutually desirable outcome.
2. Replace Blame With Curiosity
Blame and criticism reliably escalate conflict, leading to defensiveness and—eventually—to disengagement. The alternative to blame is curiosity. Adopt a learning mindset, knowing you don’t have all the facts.
3. Speak Human to Human
Underlying every team’s “who-did-what” confrontation are universal needs (competence, autonomy, respect, etc.). Recognizing these deeper needs naturally promotes positive language and behaviors.
4. Ask for Feedback on Delivery
Asking for feedback on how you delivered your message illuminates blind spots in communication skills and models fallibility, which increases trust in leaders.
5. Measure Psychological Safety
Ask team members what could enhance their feeling of safety. In addition, routinely take surveys on psychological safety and other team dynamics.
Cultivating psychological safety within an organization is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires sustained effort, consistent nurturing, and a commitment to improvement. There’s always room for progress, and once achieved within a team, the next stride may be to expand foundational safety across the entire organization, ensuring every individual feels heard, valued, and secure in expressing their thoughts and ideas.
Now is the pivotal moment to advance toward creating spaces where every individual is valued, respected, and feels safe to express themselves, regardless of the ongoing challenges our societies face. With our comprehensive guidance and your proactive engagement, we can build organizations where inclusivity and innovation are the norms.
Krista L. Lindsey is the Associate Director of Product Marketing for Seramount and has almost 10 years of experience in B2B sales, social media management, communications, graphic design, and marketing.
Prior to her time at Seramount, Krista was the Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications for The University of North Texas Division of Enrollment, overseeing all aspects of recruitment communications, digital marketing, event promotion, and print design. She joined the higher education sector after launching her marketing consulting business that helped small to mid-size businesses create marketing materials for a successful launch. Krista began her career in B2B sales for Republic National Distribution Company and Quest Diagnostics and previously held a position as the Communications Coordinator for The University of Houston Division of Enrollment.
Krista graduated from Sam Houston State University with a BS in Communication Studies and is currently a Juris Doctor candidate at The University of North Texas Dallas College of Law. She resides in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, bonus son, and two dogs. When she isn’t planning a wedding or studying for law exams, she can be found in the kitchen learning to re-create dishes from her Creole heritage, practicing mindfulness through self-care, or catching up on her favorite reality TV shows.