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Here are 5 Proven Practices to Boost Psychological Safety

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar April 19, 2023

There’s certainly been a ton of talk about the concept of psychological safety over the last few years. However, most of that talk seems to revolve primarily around the definition of the concept rather than about how to bring the concept into practice. Fortunately, we’re here to help! Here are five practices you can experiment with to foster a safe working environment.

Have you ever been lucky enough to be part of a team that just clicks? A team where everyone is on the same page and things just seem to flow smoothly? It's an incredible feeling, so it's no coincidence that those teams are often the most successful.

However, building a great team that delivers excellent teamwork is about much more than talented individuals. This works pretty much the same way with sports: talent is obviously a priority, but it can only get you so far.

But what makes the team truly great if it is not about the talent of individuals?

Great teamwork requires psychological safety

One key factor is something called psychological safety. And while it may sound complicated, it’s essentially about creating a safe and supportive environment where team members feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their ideas.

Amazing things can happen when people feel safe to be themselves and contribute to the team. In fact, research has shown that teams with high levels of psychological safety are more innovative, more productive, and more likely to retain their members.

Check out the animation below to learn more:

5 proven practices to foster psychological safety

So, if you want to create the best team to produce great teamwork, it's worth putting some thought into how you can foster psychological safety.

Let's take a flight across several pioneering organisations and let's explore five proven practices that allowed them to create a higher sense of psychological safety.

1. P4Q - Equal speaking time during meetings

P4Q is a Spanish manufacturer of electronic systems for things like solar trackers, windmills, and medical devices. The progressive company employs over 200 people in Spain, about 50 in New Mexico, USA, and another 30 in Shanghai, China.

P4Q is based on the NER (Nuevo Estilo de Relaciones) philosophy, but the company is also inspired by Holacracy. This is reflected in how they organize their meetings, which utilize a fixed-step system that allows everyone to speak.

The facilitator of the meeting ensures that the speaking time is well distributed. Is someone speaking for too long? Well, then they intervene. If someone is very quiet, the facilitator ensures that a stage is created for them to talk comfortably by asking them questions and actively involving them in the conversation.

This practice fosters psychological safety by providing everyone with the same amount of speaking time to ensure everyone feels heard and has the opportunity to speak up.

2. Haier - Mood boards

Based in China, Haier is the world’s number one home appliance manufacturer and boasts over 70,000 employees. It’s also one of the most innovative companies in the world. Haier’s legendary former CEO and chairman, Zhang Ruimin, is perhaps the leading management strategist of modern times.

All across the company, you will see mood boards on the wall filled with emoticons and Chinese signs that are used to stimulate conversation and promote psychological safety among factory workers.

Before the start of each shift, team members are encouraged to express their mood by picking a face from one of three options: sad, satisfied, or happy. Using emojis instead of words makes it easier for some to express themselves.

As simple as they may sound, these mood boards help foster psychological safety by inviting members to express their feelings, promoting open communication, and creating an environment where people feel comfortable and trusted enough to share their thoughts and ideas.

In fact, research has shown that teams with high levels of psychological safety are more innovative, more productive, and more likely to retain their members.
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3. Buurtzorg - Annual festival

Buurtzorg is a home healthcare organization that works with small teams of district nurses and utilizes a very progressive organizational model. Buurtzorg currently employs over 10,000 nurses and assistants in 850 self-managed teams.

Every year, Buurtzorg organizes Buurtzorg Festival. Now, you may think this is a disguised name for a day full of training purposes and obligations, but no—this is a real festival.

Buurtzorg Festival is a day solely organized for the nurses to socialize, enjoy their time, and connect with each other. The festival starts with several workshops (non-work related) that are followed by an evening with various artists performing on different stages until deep into the evening.

The overall purpose of the festival is for people to feel like they are truly a part of the organization while creating a high sense of inclusion—all beneficial for fostering psychological safety.

4. Viisi - No learning budget

Viisi, a Dutch mortgage advice chain founded in 2010 during the global financial crisis, is the first financial services company worldwide to implement a 100% self-organization model.

Viisi consciously works without a fixed training budget and reimburses all training costs to employees who decide to take classes. Employees determine for themselves which programs they take on.

With the “no learning budget” policy, Viisi creates many opportunities for people to join any training or course they want. This approach actively lowers the boundaries for people to learn, thereby contributing to psychological safety.

5. Supercell - Celebrate failure

Supercell, one of our Bucket List companies we still have yet to visit, is a Finnish gaming company founded in 2010. The company employs about 200 people that develop insanely popular mobile games like Hay Day, Clash of Clans, and Brawl Stars.

The company has a unique approach to failure: When a game has failed its development process, Supercell celebrates it. No, not the actual failure, but rather the things they’ve learned from it. In a weekly meeting, any teams that killed off their game will share the lessons learned with the rest of the organization.

To actually reinforce the feeling of recognizing and celebrating the learnings of their development adventure, the teams will toast to what they learned from the failure with a nice, bubbly glass of champagne.

By doing so, they foster psychological safety by creating an environment where it is completely safe to learn from failure.

Ready to learn more?

Full disclosure: I borrowed (and paraphrased) most of the content of this article from our on-demand course called “'Boost Psychological Safety.” As you can probably tell by the title, this course is all about practical tools and proven practices to boost psychological safety on your team.

So, if you are ready to start implementing one or more of these practices, check out our Academy, where you can learn about this and a ton of other progressive methods. Oh, and you’ll also join our community of hundreds of fellow rebels as we grow and learn together.

Sound good? Learn more here.

Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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