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5 Ways People Managers Can Increase Psychological Safety for their Teams

by uma


By Sacha Thompson, Inclusive Culture Curator & Coach, The Equity Equation

Over the last few months, organizations have begun bringing employees back into the office or have decided to continue with hybrid work. One of the biggest challenges has been ensuring employees feel welcomed and their needs for success are met. Leaders are assessing their management styles, how they connect with their teams on a personal level, and stay attuned to the challenges of the great recession and quiet quitting. 

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been an increased desire for organizations to measure the psychological safety of their employees. They are noticing a few challenges – 

  • they observed a toxic team environment
  • leaders noticed challenges but could not identify the source, 
  • teams want to focus on creating a culture of inclusion

Dr. Timothy Clark, defines psychological safety as – 

“a universal pattern that reflects the natural progression of human needs in social settings. When teams, organizations, and social units of all kinds progress through the four stages, they create deeply inclusive environments, accelerate learning, increase contribution, and stimulate innovation.”

A psychological safety assessment is a great tool to determine the team’s cultural baseline. It provides the ability to see where challenges may happen in the organization and the most impacted demographic groups. Here are five challenges and tips on how people managers can shift into inclusive leadership by increasing psychological safety.

Challenge #1: Anticipating the Employees’ Needs

Many leaders have great intentions by attempting to respond to issues or challenges before they happen or when an employee comes to them with a problem and immediately provides the solution. They start to put actions in place based on what they are anticipating. 

Inclusive Leader Tip – Ask what they need. 

Ask a few simple questions, “How can I support you?” “What do you need to be successful?” “What barriers are hindering your progress?”

By doing this, you open a dialogue that provides them with the opportunity to share. You may not only learn something about the employee, but they may also offer insights into more significant organizational challenges. 

Challenge #2: Not sharing how you got where you are

Leaders often forget (or want to forget) that the path to where they are now may have had a few bumps along the way. Many employees, especially those earlier in their careers, only see today’s leader. They don’t see the mistakes and mishaps you may have made and survived. This results in employees who fear sharing mistakes or pressure themselves to be perfect, leading to undue stress and burnout. 

Inclusive Leader Tip – Share your career journey.

Share your journey with your team. If you are learning something new now, share that. Model the behavior. Be transparent in your learning process and your learning journey. Encourage them to learn something new that will impact your team members personally and professionally. Follow up with them or have them share what they’ve learned with the group. Not only will this foster a sense of community building, but it also allows you to see what excites them and potential next steps for growth.   

Challenge #3: Wanting immediate responses

We are often moving so quickly – running from meeting to meeting, juggling Zoom and life. The pandemic has slowed down a bit, but work hasn’t. We want immediate feedback to adjust and continue moving forward. 

Inclusive Leader Tip – Allow time and space for idea sharing

Provide your team with time and space to respond. Not everyone processes new ideas in the moment. If there’s time, provide the agenda or the item to review ahead of time. If during the meeting, allow the team time to process and several ways to give you feedback (email, chat, text, etc.). It gives them the chance to provide you with the best of themselves in a way that is conducive to how they process. 

Challenge #4: Rushing to a solution

There are often opportunities where team members have a new idea, want to provide an update on a project, or need advice from others to move forward. Because many leaders have “been in that team member’s shoes”, they often give advice or respond with “This is what I would do…”, leaving little room for other voices.

Inclusive Leader Tip – Give your feedback last

Open the conversation for other thoughts and ideas. See what suggestions others on the team may have. By opening the dialogue, creativity can occur with no boundaries. Weigh in, if necessary, or support what others shared. You may hear a few ideas you had not thought of before. 

Challenge #5: Work Hard. Work Hard.

The pandemic has forced many of us to re-evaluate how we manage our physical and mental well-being. Organizations have increased access to Employee Assistance Programs and other benefits to support a more balanced work and home life. But the work hasn’t stopped. Expectations remain high – adding fuel to the stress and burnout fire. 

Inclusive Leader Tip – Model Self-Care Practices

If you are telling employees to use EAP or take time off but not doing the same, think of the message you are sending. Take a moment to create a self-care routine that allows you to disconnect. Model the behavior you want your employees to see. Share some of your self-care strategies with them. Don’t have one? Take part of a team meeting to focus on self-care and how you will hold each other accountable.  

These small changes can significantly increase your team’s psychological safety and your management skillset as an inclusive leader. 

About Author:

Sacha Thompson is the founder of The Equity Equation, LLC, a boutique inclusive culture consulting and coaching firm based in the Washington, DC area. With 20+ years of experience within the education, non-profit and tech industries, Sacha’s work is about removing barriers or providing support to achieve equity. She helps executives and leaders have that important dialogue and coaches them to the necessary, long-term changes that develop institutional cultures of DEI. She was most recently featured in Business Insider and MSNBC’s The Cross Connection.