The Psychological Safety In/Out Exercise

Research, Workshops, Practices and Exercises

The Psychological Safety In/Out Exercise

Psychological safety exercise

After doing the psychological safety team performance exercise, you may want to workshop with your team to establish how you’re going to build psychological safety in the team. Whilst there are some standard and ubiquitous approaches to building psychological safety, such as icebreakers, retrospectives, and video call practices, this is an opportunity for your team to identify psychological safety practices and behaviours that are unique to them.

Draw a large circle on a whiteboard or virtual board, and given that you’ve already worked with your team about what psychological safety is, how psychologically safe they feel at present, and some values and behaviours for the team, now ask your team to add examples of behaviours or practices that represent psychologically safe or unsafe environments. Time-box this exercise to 5-10 minutes, depending on team size. Add more time if you feel it’s required.

“Safe” practices go in the the “IN” circle, unsafe practices go outside. Demonstrate or seed the workshop with a couple of your own ideas, such as “trusting each other” inside the circle, and “talking over people in meetings” outside the circle.

Examples of practices in the IN circle might be healthcare practitioners who always pair on certain activities, sales teams who always have someone double check paperwork and highlight any mistakes, or a sports team who ensure they celebrate after every game, no matter if they win or not. The point is for the team to identify their own practices.

The out area is somewhat easier to think about – practices that damage psychological safety are fairly easy to identify, such as bullying, criticism, aggression, or not following through on a commitment. Again, try to make sure these are as specific as possible for the team’s own context.

Spend some time presenting back the “in” and “out” behaviours and practices to the team, highlight and discuss any disagreements, and offer another round if there are further ideas to add. Spend as long as is required on this exercise, whilst people are engaged and enjoying it.

Finally, discuss with the team how these practices will be maintained, how the team can hold each other accountable for them, and how often this will get reviewed.

This exercise is from the excellent NHS Horizons guide to psychological safety, which includes many more for you to try.

Have you tried this with your team? Would you suggest any changes or improvements? For further ideas and actions, download the psychological safety Action Pack.

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