Blog Post

The Marathon of Fostering Psychological Safety in the Workplace

By Krista Lindsey
October 2, 2023

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.

Psychological Safety What it is what it is not

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.

Psychological Safety Stages

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.

*For a more in-depth exploration of these strategies, please consider scheduling a facilitated learning session with one of our experts.

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

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.

If you’re looking to deepen your understanding and implementation of these principles, our Fostering Psychological Safety Guide serves as a valuable resource, offering insightful strategies and practical steps to further enhance the atmosphere of trust and openness within your workplace. Additionally, our Breaking Silos, Building Trust: Nurturing Psychological Safety within Teams webinar presenters left our audience with these words of wisdom, signifying how you as an individual can help progress psychological safety:

Psychological Safety Quotes

Crossing the Finish Line Together: Building Inclusive Workspaces in Today’s Dynamic World

Amid navigating the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the call for racial justice amplified by movements such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, and responding to increasing global demands for gender equality, the importance of fostering inclusive and psychologically safe workplaces is more pressing than ever.

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, training tools, and your proactive engagement, we can build organizations where inclusivity and innovation are the norms.

Contact us or subscribe to our newsletter to explore how our services and expertise can further your journey toward a more psychologically safe and inclusive workplace.

About the Author

Krista Lindsey
Krista Lindsey
Associate Director, Product Marketing