What is psychological safety? Psychological safety is the ability to take risks, speak up, work creatively and innovatively, and generally be able to be authentic in the workplace without fear of reprisal, discrimination or retaliation.

Psychological safety enables people to truly be themselves and share freely — and has the potential to unlock personal breakthroughs that can lead to business breakthroughs, increasing team unity and cohesion and driving productivity in the process.

Psychological safety has always been a key ingredient in creating an inclusive, harmonious and productive workplace, but it’s even more important now as businesses try to bounce back from the pandemic. So, how can you develop a psychologically safe place for your teams to collaborate, be curious, challenge each other, “fail fast” and learn? Follow these simple recommendations, outlined below.

Recommendation No. 1: Nurture a Sense of Belonging

One of the first ways to build a psychologically safe workplace is to nurture a sense of belonging.

For decades, psychologists have identified social connection and acceptance as fundamental human needs important for development and growth, so it is not surprising that, regardless of job role, level or location, employees must feel accepted and embraced before they can make a positive impact on their organization.

This starts with the preboarding experience — from the moment the successful candidate has accepted a job offer through to their first day on the job — and continues throughout the employee life cycle.

To integrate belonging into the entire employee life cycle, ask yourself:

    • How are you preboarding your new hires?
    • Are you helping them better understand the business and team they’re joining?
    • Will they have everything they need for day one?
    • How are you supporting people with their onboarding and ongoing colleague experience?
    • Do you assign “buddies” who can check in regularly with the employee and be a friendly, active listener?
    • What engagement opportunities and team building experiences are you enabling?
    • How are you creating personal and professional growth opportunities to reflect individual preferences?
    • Are you holding regular team meetings to increase visibility, collaboration and relationship building opportunities?
    • What structures are in place to explore blind spots or areas for development in a positive way?

Recommendation No. 2: Encourage Open and Honest Dialogue

One of the easiest things to do is to misunderstand something a colleague said or did. When ignored, misunderstandings can easily turn into resentment or workplace conflict.

A great way to avoid this is to encourage open and honest dialogue at all levels across the business. This regular and transparent conversation helps increase visibility and understanding and can remove the risk of siloed working. It also ensures any issues are surfaced and resolved quickly.

The language we use is also key to success. Where possible, depersonalize language and explain what you’re experiencing. Share your communications preferences with your colleagues and ask them about theirs, then try to move toward them. In my experience, by taking a five percent step towards the preference of others, we are 10% more aligned – and that makes a huge difference. That’s 10% more effective communications, 10% more trust, 10% more harmony in a team, 10% more productivity and 10% better collaboration.

Recommendation No. 3: Trust Your People and Let Them Know It

A great way to show your team members you trust them is by asking them for their ideas, discussing them as a team and then implementing the best ones. It’s even better if you enable them to drive forward agreed tasks without micromanaging them, or the outcome. When tasks are delivered, use this as an opportunity to remind everyone how the idea came about – and then celebrate as a team.

A COVID-19 pandemic-specific example for demonstrating trust is to encourage your teams to decide how they want to work as restrictions continue to ease. Nothing says “I trust you” like allowing individuals the freedom to choose to work from home, return to the office or adopt a hybrid approach.

Recommendation No. 4: Replace Blame With Curiosity

Everyone makes mistakes, so one of the keys to creating a feeling of psychological safety is allowing your people to fail, without feeling like a “failure.” Do this by depersonalizing failures and focus instead on “why” they went wrong. What can we learn from the experience? What could we do differently next time? How could we use this experience to support others and achieve better outcomes next time?

The “fail fast and learn” concept encourages people and teams to make mistakes quickly, which allows you to move on from bad ideas, and on to good ones. While it might not work for every business, this methodology is a great way of getting people comfortable with failure as crucial step in the journey toward success.

By implementing these recommendations, you will be well on your way toward a happy and engaged team, where each team member feels trusted and appreciated, and works in an environment where creativity and innovation thrive — and business breakthroughs are regularly achieved.