Promoting Psychological Safety In A Chinese Manufacturing Plant

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree March 15, 2018

Psychological safety: "being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career". It's an often discussed concept in a working world where it certainly isn't self-evident.

When we visited Chinese workplace pioneer and white goods manufacturing giant Haier we witnessed a powerful practice to promote psychological safety within their production teams. Here's how it works.

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The key to high-performing teams

Before we look at Haier's practice, we dive a bit more into the concept of psychological safety. Google performed interesting research in their organization to get a better understanding of the key factors that make teams stand out in terms of performance. While they expected to find certain characteristics of team members, they encountered something quite different.

The number one factor that set high-performing teams apart from others appeared to be psychological safety. These high-performing teams were characterized by members who feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. It was way more important than the other defining factors (dependability, structure & clarity, meaning, impact).

Unfortunately, psychological safety is not a given in today's workplaces. A staggering 61% of the workforce admits to covering who they are in front of their colleagues.

And you.. Do you work in an environment where you can be 100% yourself? Can you admit to mistakes that you've made without them being held against you? Can you speak your mind in meetings? Also when you're talking to people in senior positions? And how about expressing your feelings when you have a shitty day?

Expressing your mood

Two months ago we visited one of the most pioneering companies on our Bucket List, Haier in Qingdao, China. That visit surprised us in many ways. One of those surprises was the way they handled the moods among the production teams.

When we walked around the production floor we noticed a big wall filled with emoticons and Chinese signs. We asked one of the factory workers what it was. The answer he gave wasn't something we had expected to hear in a production plant, and especially not in China. Once again, our prepossessions proved terribly wrong.


We were looking at a wall (see picture above) where team members expressed their moods before the start of their shift. It was meant to stimulate the conversation and promote psychological safety.

The members picked a mood from one of the three options: a sad face, a satisfied face, and a happy face. Based on the

According to the employees, at first it was hard to express themselves as they weren't used to sharing such feelings with their colleagues. After a while people felt more comfortable to share their true feelings. As a result, powerful discussions started to take place on the factory floor.

Experiment, then spread the word

The most beautiful aspect of it all: this wasn't an idea implemented by HR or management. It was an idea from one of the team members. He pitched the idea to his team and they started experimenting with this before the start of their shift.

The mood board made team members feel much more comfortable expressing their feelings. One of the factory workers explained: "It gives employees the chance to express how they feel and to share what's on their mind. That not only helps us to get the conversation going, but it also helps us to do our jobs better. For example, if someone doesn't feel well because of a bad situation at home we sometimes decide to send that person home to his family.

He or she can focus on their private matter. Besides this personal gain it also helps us to improve our performance as we noticed that people that feel bad also made more mistakes. Now we can try to solve both problems at the same time."

'It gives employees the chance to express how they feel and to share what's on their mind. That not only helps us to get the conversation going, but it also helps us to do our jobs better.
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The practice soon spread through the factory like a virus: "When other teams noticed what we were doing, they started adopting this practice". While nobody forced any of the teams to start using this practice, for many of them this is currently how they start their day.

Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
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