One of the everyday challenges for team coaches is that many teams cannot advance without greater psychological safety, yet psychological safety is not something that can be instantly switched on. The members of a team may come to recognise the need for psychological safety, but it can only be achieved gradually, in small steps. Moreover, the mechanisms that underpin the level of psychological safety present in a team are complex and often difficult to articulate.
A simple but effective way for a coach or a leader to start the process involves asking everyone to reflect for a moment towards the end of a meeting on the question: “What might have been useful for you to say in our conversations, but you did not feel able to say?”. This might, for example, be a piece of information, an observation, a comment on something said or done by a colleague or the team leader.
Now explain that you are not going to ask them to reveal what they were unable to say. Instead, they should talk about what made them reluctant to speak their minds. It’s not necessary for them to go into detail. Aim to elicit statements like: “Fear of being shot down” or “Not wanting to offend” or “Being unwilling to challenge the majority opinion”. If you are the first to reveal, that helps encourage others. As people gain confidence, you can ask everyone for more examples, both from within the meeting and without.
Gather the various comments and encourage the team to identify recurring themes. Explore with the team:
- What would be the benefit of feeling more able to speak up and be authentic?
- What can we do together to create the conditions for this?
- What can we do individually?
The power of this approach lies in the fact that it provides a relatively safe stepping stone between lack of disclosure and being openly vulnerable.
© David Clutterbuck 2023