12 July 2023 |


By Gabrielle "GB" Blackwell

Psychological Safety Announcement

If you’re not creating a psychologically safe environment, you’re not fulfilling your role as a leader. 

Your people deserve to come to work without fear or panic. And you’re capable of creating an environment where they can do just that. 

So today, I’m going to share some specific tactics on how to actually build psychological safety. But first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page…

What exactly are we talking about?

Psychological safety happens when people on your team feel and believe they can take risks, express their ideas and concerns, ask questions and make mistakes – without fearing punishment or humiliation.

Assist: This is SO SO SO important for people on your team who are part of traditionally underrepresented communities – women, BIPOC, LGBTQIA, people with visible and invisible disabilities, etc – or anyone who has ever come from a psychologically unsafe environment. 

Why should managers care, though? 

Tl;dr: No one wins in a psychologically unsafe environment

HBR shares “psychological safety leads to team members feeling more engaged and motivated, because they feel that their contributions matter…it can lead to better decision-making…[and] it can foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement.”

In plain talk, psychological safety can lead people to: 

  • Want to perform better, because they’re engaged and motivated
  • Buy into change programs sooner, because they’ve shared insight that can influence or inform decision making
  • Ramp faster and/or increase performance quarter over quarter, because of that culture of continuous learning and improvement

3 ways to start building psychological safety

It’s really simple – prioritize building authentic relationships with each member of your team. Or in other words, show your people you care about them and take their success personally

There are 3 basic building blocks:

1. Build rapport

One of my work BFFLs was about to transfer to a new team and could not stop raving about how great their new manager was. I asked him what it was that really stood out about this manager. “She listens to me, wants to get to know me more, and I got to learn a lot about her,” was my friend’s response. 

When I approached his soon to be new manager, asking her about how she had managed to create a great impression with my friend, she told me about a rapport building exercise she does with any new person she works with.

🏀This exercise is really simple: all you’ll need is a 30-40 minute one-on-one. During that one-on-one, one person will talk about themselves for 7-minutes, uninterrupted. Once that person has finished, the other person will do the same.

At the end of the 7-minute share, you and your rep can discuss what you each heard. Typically, you’ll see that there are some similarities between the two of you, i.e. how you were raised, interests or hobbies you both share, or life experiences you can both relate to. 

2. Create agreements

As a recovering people pleaser, I love love love creating agreements with each member of my team. 

There’s the benefit to the rep of course. I also benefit as a manager since I’m given the answer key to each person’s preferences. This helps big time in feeling more confident and competent as a manager. 

And if you’re modeling confidence and competence, there’s a greater chance of your reps feeling more confident and competent in their role. 😉

🏀 Want a specific exercise you can do with your reps to create agreements? Read this newsletter. You’ll get the 411 on how to create agreements with your reps.

3. Be consistent

The rapport-building and agreements-setting exercises are just the tip of the relational iceberg. 

If you do these exercises, but don’t show up authentically in a consistent way, you’ll wreak havoc on your reps’ trust and perception of you. (*Cough* they won’t feel psychologically safe *cough*).

Ask yourself:

  • Are you one way in group settings when others (like your boss) are watching but then different when you interact with your reps?
  • Do you ask your reps for feedback, but then use that against them later on?
  • Can people trust that who you show up as on one day is who you are all the time? Or are they left guessing “who they’ll get” from one day to the next?

🏀Your people won’t do as you say, they’ll do as you do. When people see consistency in your character, they’ll be more likely to show up consistently with you and in their role!

Knowing what you’re working with

Psychological safety is the foundation of creating an ideal team culture and identity. But it’s just the start.

The next step to building a team character or identity is being aware of what kind of team you have:

  • Are you inheriting a team?
  • Are you supporting a team through a significant change in the business?
  • Has there been a significant shift in team composition?
  • Is your team experiencing really low morale?

Or maybe some combination of the above?

Whatever the case, if you don’t take what kind of team you have into consideration, you’re going to miss the team development mark. 

In next week’s email, I’ll answer the question “How do I approach building a team identity when I’ve inherited a team?

Be sure to stay tuned!