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Exercises to Promote Psychological Safety in Your Organization

effective leadership psychological safety team trust

The term "psychological safety" has increasingly permeated the vocabulary of leaders, managers, and aspiring entrepreneurs. Why? Because it's a cornerstone of a productive, innovative, and healthy work environment. In fact, research from Google's Project Aristotle found that psychological safety was the key differentiator between their highest-performing teams and the rest. 


But what exactly is psychological safety? And more importantly, how do we build and foster it within our organizations? This blog will walk you through the why's and how's, and introduce you to some practical exercises designed to cultivate psychological safety in your organization. 


The Role of Psychological Safety in an Organization


Psychological safety is the shared belief held by members of a team that they can take interpersonal risks without fear of retribution or humiliation. It encourages open communication, fosters respect, and enables team members to voice their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. 


Teams high in psychological safety show increased engagement, empathy, trust, and openness to learning from mistakes. This promotes an inclusive work culture, enhances team productivity, and improves organizational behavior.


Building Trust in Your Team 

Trust forms the bedrock of psychological safety. It promotes effective team communication, improves team collaboration, and boosts employee morale. Here are two exercises to consider for building trust in your team:


The Trust Fall 

An oldie but a goodie. Team members take turns falling backward into the arms of their peers. It's simple, but symbolizes vulnerability and reliance on others.


  • This activity requires a minimum of two people - one to fall and one to catch (although it's safer and recommended to have more catchers).
  • The faller stands straight with their back facing the catchers.
  • The catchers stand ready with their arms outstretched, prepared to catch the faller.
  • The faller then counts to three and falls backward, keeping their body stiff and straight.
  • They must trust their team members to catch them and prevent them from hitting the ground.
  • Rotate until each person has had a turn to fall.
  • Conclude with a discussion about the experience of trust and vulnerability.



Two Truths and a Lie

This exercise encourages personal sharing, which can build relational trust. Each team member shares two truths and one lie about themselves. Others guess which one is the lie.


  • Each team member prepares three statements about themselves: two truths and one lie.
  • In turn, each person shares their three statements to the group, without revealing which one is false.
  • The rest of the team guesses which statement they think is the lie.
  • Continue until all team members have shared and guesses have been made.
  • Finish with a conversation on how trust is built through openness and understanding.

Our comprehensive guide, "The Complete Guide to Leading a Team and Developing Them into Future Leaders", further dives into strategies for fostering trust in your team.


Encouraging Open Communication

Open communication is a critical component of psychological safety. It allows for transparent problem-solving and promotes transparency. Try these exercises to foster open communication:


Round Robin

Team members take turns to share their views on a topic, ensuring everyone gets a chance to contribute.


  • Identify a topic or question for the team to discuss. This can be work-related or something more general.
  • Gather your team in a circle or around a table, and choose a person to start.
  • The starting person shares their thoughts or answers on the topic.
  • Continue in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction, giving each team member a turn to speak.
  • No interruptions should be made while someone is speaking. Everyone should be given time to share without feeling rushed.
  • Once everyone has had a chance to contribute, open the floor for a general discussion where people can react to what others have said or add additional thoughts.


Listening Circles

In a roundtable format, one person speaks while others listen attentively, fostering active listening and demonstrating the value of every team member's input.


  • Assemble the team in a circular or roundtable formation.
  • Choose a topic or issue for discussion. The person who starts (this can be the leader or a chosen team member) shares their thoughts about the chosen topic.
  • While the speaker is talking, everyone else should remain silent, focusing solely on listening to the speaker's words. No interruptions are allowed.
  • Once the speaker finishes, allow a brief moment of silence before moving to the next person.
  • Continue in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction until everyone has had an opportunity to speak.
  • This exercise can conclude with a discussion on the importance of active listening and how everyone felt being in a space where their input was valued.


Promoting Empathy and Understanding

Empathy allows us to see things from another person's perspective. It encourages mutual understanding and fosters respect, key elements in a psychologically safe environment. Exercises to boost empathy include:


The Empathy Map

This activity involves mapping out what a team member thinks, feels, says, and does in certain scenarios, promoting a better understanding of their perspective.


  • Gather your team and provide each person with a blank "empathy map." This is a chart divided into four quadrants, labeled "Thinks," "Feels," "Says," and "Does."
  • Choose a scenario that the team is likely to encounter or has encountered before.
  • Each team member then fills in each quadrant of the map based on what they believe a selected colleague might think, feel, say, and do in the given scenario.
  • Once completed, everyone shares their empathy maps and discusses their insights. This can open dialogues about different perspectives and promote greater understanding within the team.
  • Conclude by discussing the value of empathy in teamwork and encourage the team to consider others' viewpoints in real work situations. 


The Shoe Swap

Team members pair up and share a challenging work experience, while the other person listens empathetically.


  • Divide your team into pairs.
  • In each pair, one person shares a challenging work experience they've had.
  • The other person's role is to listen empathetically, not interrupting, but trying to understand the sharer's feelings and perspectives.
  • Once the first person is finished, the listener summarizes what they heard to ensure they understood correctly.
  • They can then ask follow-up questions to deepen their understanding.
  • After this, the pair swaps roles, so the listener becomes the sharer.
  • Finish by gathering the team and discussing the importance of empathy in understanding and supporting one another.

Our post on "How to Ask for Help at Work" provides more insights on how empathy can foster psychological safety.


Fostering a Learning Culture

A learning culture contributes to psychological safety by encouraging learning from mistakes and promoting continuous improvement. Here are some exercises to encourage learning:


The Failure Resume

Team members share past mistakes and what they learned from them, fostering a culture that sees failure as an opportunity for growth.


  • Ask each team member to prepare a "failure resume," which is a list of their past mistakes or failures and the lessons they learned from each one.
  • Set aside time in a team meeting for each person to share one or two items from their failure resume. Ensure it's a supportive environment where team members feel safe to share.
  • During each share, other team members should listen without judgment. The aim is not to criticize but to understand and learn from each other's experiences.
  • After everyone has had a chance to share, lead a group discussion on the concept of failure and its role in personal and professional growth.

Growth Mindset Discussions

Regular team discussions on the importance of embracing challenges, persisting in the face of setbacks, and viewing effort as the path to mastery.


  • Schedule regular team discussions (for example, once a month or quarter) dedicated to the concept of the growth mindset.
  • Each discussion can focus on a different aspect of the growth mindset, such as embracing challenges, persisting in the face of setbacks, or viewing effort as the path to mastery.
  • Prepare a few discussion points or questions to guide the conversation. Encourage everyone to share their thoughts and experiences related to the topic.
  • These discussions can be an opportunity to share success stories, struggles, and strategies related to developing and maintaining a growth mindset. Conclude each discussion by summarizing the key takeaways and their implications for the team's work.


Incorporating Regular Feedback

Constructive feedback helps maintain psychological safety by encouraging transparency and continuous improvement. Here's an exercise to introduce a non-threatening feedback system:


The Feedback Circle

Team members provide constructive feedback to each other, fostering a culture of openness and continual improvement.


  • Arrange the team in a circle.
  • Starting from one person, each team member provides constructive feedback to the person on their right.
  • Feedback should focus on work-related actions or behaviors, not personal attributes.
  • The feedback provider should balance criticism with positive feedback.
  • After feedback, the roles rotate around the circle until everyone has given and received feedback.
  • Discuss the experience and importance of feedback afterward.


Creating a psychologically safe work environment is a worthwhile investment. By employing these exercises, your organization can foster a culture of trust, open communication, empathy, learning, and constructive feedback. This culture promotes employee engagement, improves team productivity, and ultimately contributes to the health and success of your organization.


Feeling ready to take the next step? Check out our Free Preview Course that dives into these concepts in more detail, giving you the tools and strategies you need to foster psychological safety and lead your team to success.


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