Three Simple Psychological Safety Exercises

It’s a long and worthwhile journey to build high levels of psychological safety in your team, and much of the hard work involves excellent leadership, clarity of direction, effective support, vulnerability, curiosity and much more.

However there are some simple exercises that you can carry out with your teams that directly build psychological safety. See below for four effective exercises and practices to build psychological safety, cohesion and performance.

1 – Run a Values and Behaviours Workshop

Workshop with your team to establish and refine the main values that all members of your team endorse. From these values, extrapolate the behaviours, with your team members, that reflect these values and help the team work together to achieve their goals.

For example, “blamelessness” could be one of your team values, and a behaviour that reflects this could be “Taking collective responsibility for mistakes.”

Sharing common expectations of behaviour is fundamental for psychological safety in a team.

As a result of carrying out this Values and Behaviours workshop:

  • Team members understand what is expected of them and others.
  • Team cohesion and performance improves.
  • The team are aligned to the values of the organisation.
  • Boundaries regarding acceptable behaviours are agreed.
  • The degree of psychological safety of team members increases.

2 – Hold a “Fear Conversation”

Whilst psychological safety is not about existential or external threats, it is very much about being able to show vulnerability and emotion. This exercise encourages that behaviour and builds psychological safety by making openness a norm for the team. It also provides some actionable outcomes to deal with real-world risks and threats.

On a white board or flip chart, create three columns – one for “Fear”, one for “Mitigations” and one for “Target State”.

In the fear column, write down some of the fears that you and team members possess in the team, such as “missing deadlines” or “making mistakes”. Ask everyone to contribute, but make sure that as the team leader, you go first.

Then, as a team, come up mitigations to these fears, which consist of practical things team members can do to reduce the risk of the fears becoming real. Or, in case those fears are inevitable, instead write down ways that the impact can be reduced.

Finally, discuss and write down your “Target State” – this is your team’s utopia, where “everyone can make mistakes without fear of repercussions” or “we never miss a deadline”. This helps the team cohere around common goals and aspirations, which are essential to building psychological safety.

3 – Run Retrospectives

Carrying out regular retrospectives to find the systemic root cause of failures, problems or mistakes is one of the most valuable things you can do as a leader in your journey to building psychological safety.

Ensure that any retrospective is given enough time and is carried out in an appropriate setting. Team members need to feel able to be honest and as vulnerable as possible, so carry it out in a non-public area and certainly don’t record it if you’re carrying out over a video call.

Highlight, discuss, and deep dive into the things that went well, the things you need to change as a team, any lessons learned or anything still to be discovered.

Identifying root causes of failure without apportioning blame is crucial to psychological safety, because team members need to know that they can take intelligent risks without fear of repercussions, humiliation or punishment.

For more detailed guides in the above workshops, along with templates and examples, download the psychological safety Action Pack.

Psychological Safety and High Performance Technology Organisations

wb40 blocky

Matt Ballantine and Chris Weston were kind enough to invite me onto the WB40 podcast for this episode discussing psychological safety and technology organisations.

We discussed the key concepts and history of psychological safety, from the lack of safety culture that ultimately caused the Chernobyl disaster, to Amy Edmondson’s research into high performing clinical teams. We covered how to engage with your team about how to build psychological safety in the workplace, and how it doesn’t just result in feeling good, but with the right environment, results in truly greater performance and higher delivery, particularly when leaders take into account the four stages of psychological safety.

If you’re interested in psychological safety and how it relates to DevOps and software development or how Conway’s law and cognitive load dovetail into improving psychological safety, and the quality of the services or products your team delivers, give it a listen.

Strategically, psychological safety must be at the heart  of any organisational transformation or evolution, since it remains the single most crucial aspect of any high performing team; and only high performing teams will provide the competitive advantage required for real success.

If you’re interested in measuring, building, and maintaining psychological safety in your team, download my workshop and action pack, full of guides, plans, tools and resources to elevate and empower your teams.



Psychological Safety Action Pack: Workshops and Resources

building and maintaining psychological safety for your team

Do you want to improve the performance, velocity, engagement and ultimately, happiness of your teams and your organisation?

This is a complete Psychological Safety Action Pack containing background information, a business case, six-month planner, measurement tools, workshops, exercises, checklists, posters and templates to work on with your teams!

Already used by successful organisations around the world, you can apply these tools and techniques to build psychological safety in your team and across your organisation.

download now

Whether you’re new to leadership, taking on a new team, or working with a long-established group, this will help you take your people and your leadership skills to high-performance and happiness. Designed for novices and experts alike, the resources are easy-to-use and customisable for your situation.

Remote psychological safety

The Psychological Safety Action Pack consists of twenty individual resources, together with links to further reading and useful information.

Through three phases of work: Planning, Implementation, and Reflection, the Psychological Safety action pack contains all the resources and workshop materials you’ll need to unleash the potential of your team.

Tuckmans model of team performance

Download the tool kit via instant digital download. You will also receive a link via email to re-download should you need to.

The pack contains:

  • An introduction to psychological safety
  • A business case template
  • Planning templates,
  • Survey tools to measure psychological safety
  • Targeted actions and checklists resulting from the survey
  • Specific resources for remote teams
  • Three different workshops with guides and resources
  • Retrospective templates
  • Self-reflection and improvement guides
  • Posters
  • Background information
  • Links to further resources

If you work for a charity or non-profit organisation, email from your organisation email account to receive the Action Pack free of charge.

The Action Pack will be delivered as a compressed zip file (under 10MB) and a link to download the pack will also be sent to your registered email address.

Download the action pack now.

Thanks to Chris Wilkinson ( for his excellent work in turning my workshop template sketches and vague poster ideas into reality.