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Trust Falls and Snowball Fights: Crafting Courage in the Comfort Zone



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Introduction

In a recent essay, I began to explore the concept of psychological safety in teams, uncovering its importance for fostering an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing ideas, discussing mistakes, and expressing concerns without fear of negative consequences. This initial investigation highlighted psychological safety as a key ingredient for strong team performance, but it also made me realize that I only touched on the surface of how to build such an environment. I saw this as a clear need since the theme is complex and relevant, especially for those teams new to building their identity.

This essay will explore how to measure psychological safety in a team and practical strategies that can be implemented to cultivate psychological safety within a team environment, ensuring a solid base for future collaborations and achievements.

 

How to measure psychological safety in a team?

 

Fully growing psychological safety in teams is the ultimate key to performance, productivity, creativity, and creating an environment where transparency and autonomy are not only advocated but also comply. However, it all needs a careful measure of psychological safety within the team and attention to analysis and testing before embarking on meaningful change. Thus, these are the first steps in the process, which involve starting regular conversations and providing everyone with a unique survey of psychological safety, such as this sample survey: https://forms.gle/cpYafs4224nkqiaB7. (Psychological Safety 2020.)

 

To accurately gauge psychological safety, deploying surveys with statements addressing critical elements of psychological safety, such as the value placed on team members’ ideas, the freedom to acknowledge errors, and the team’s inclusivity, is advisable. These statements should be evaluated using a Likert scale to facilitate a quantitative assessment of the team’s psychological safety levels. Tailoring the survey to fit the team’s distinct dynamics, while considering any cultural and language nuances that might influence responses, is essential for obtaining meaningful insights. (Psychological Safety 2020.)

 

Analyzing the survey outcomes is a critical step, focusing on identifying the team’s strong points and areas needing improvement. This analysis should zero in on statements with notably low scores or varied responses, indicating potential challenges within the team’s interactions that warrant closer examination. Incorporating options for qualitative feedback can enrich the understanding of these scores, guiding future interventions. (Psychological Safety 2020.)

 

It’s pivotal to discuss the survey findings with the team, fostering a collective exploration of the results. This discussion should aim at unpacking the root causes of any highlighted issues and jointly crafting strategies for enhancement. Goals might include fostering a culture more receptive to taking risks or bolstering support for diverse viewpoints. (Psychological Safety 2020.)

 

Continuing with subsequent evaluations and keeping a steady eye on the insights derived from previous analyses is key to constantly enhancing the team’s psychological safety. By always assessing progress and making adjustments, teams can refine their strategies towards achieving an environment of psychological safety, thereby fostering a culture of mutual respect and encouraging innovation. The findings from these surveys and the action plans that emerge are crucial for maintaining focus on psychological safety, potentially leading to the creation of new approaches to strengthen this environment. Taking decisive actions based on the feedback gathered through these surveys, while maintaining an ongoing commitment to psychological safety, sets the stage for creating a workplace where every team member feels acknowledged and inspired. (Psychological Safety 2020.)

Exercises to facilitate psychological safety

Trust fall

One of the classic team-building exercises is when participants line up and take turns leaning back, trusting that the person behind will cover their backs. It’s a very simple exercise, yet powerful enough to illustrate one with the idea of vulnerability and dependence on others. (Kutsko Consulting n.d. )

 

This activity should, thus, have at least two people: one leaning back and the other catching. It is safer and generally advisable to have extra people ready for catching for added safety. One person who is leaning back stands upright with their back turned to the catching teammate. Those catching stand up with both hands in the air to support their teammate. All members play both roles in turns. When everyone has had their turn, the team then comes back together to reflect on what the exercise might have done to build up these feelings of trust and disclosure. (Kutsko Consulting n.d. )

 

The Circle of Safety

This exercise involves drawing a large circle on a whiteboard or virtual board to categorize practices as “safe” or “unsafe.” Within a set timeframe, team members are encouraged to contribute examples based on their experiences, with “safe” practices marked inside the circle, embodying actions that foster trust and inclusivity, and “unsafe” practices placed outside, representing behaviors that undermine psychological safety. (Psychological Safety 2021.)

This interactive session allows teams to pinpoint specific practices that resonate with their unique dynamics, encouraging customization over generic solutions. Examples of “safe” practices could range from healthcare practitioners pairing on tasks to sports teams celebrating together post-game, regardless of the outcome. Conversely, “unsafe” behaviors might include actions like bullying, unwarranted criticism, or failure to honor commitments. The goal is for team members to not only contribute but also reflect on these practices, making the session a personalized and insightful experience that directly relates to their daily interactions and challenges. (Psychological Safety 2021.)

This process emphasizes the dynamic nature of building psychological safety, highlighting the importance of continuous engagement, mutual accountability, and regular reviews. By acknowledging this as an evolving framework, teams are encouraged to adapt and refine their practices over time, ensuring that the environment remains supportive, respectful, and conducive to growth and innovation. (Psychological Safety 2021.)

Silly questions

The silly question exercise is designed to enhance the psychological safety of the team. Begin by dividing team members into small groups, each comprising four to five individuals. For smaller teams, the entire team can participate as a single group. Each group receives a set of whimsical, absurd questions that defy logic or correct answers, such as:

·         “Why do some individuals harbor a fear of spaghetti?”

·         “Identify the three most sociable colors.”

·         “What quantity of parachutes is required to enable a banana to soar?”

·         “Why does my cousin Jeffrey invest his entire savings in Bitcoin?”.

This setup encourages participants to respond quickly and intuitively, promoting free thought without self-censorship. (Goodman 2024.)

As the activity progresses, participants either answer questions in turn or jump in spontaneously, with the first group to finish winning a prize. This encourages a lively and unguarded interaction among team members, fostering an environment where speaking one’s mind is not only accepted but encouraged. It’s a dynamic exercise that pushes the boundaries of conventional team interactions. (Goodman 2024.)

Upon completing the questions, the facilitator guides a reflective discussion, prompting participants to consider their reactions to the questions, any self-censorship they experienced, and how the activity parallels their behavior in other settings, such as meetings. Questions like:

  • “What was it like for you to go through the questions?”
  • “What do you think is the value of this exercise for team dynamics?”

encourage deep reflection. This exercise not only lightens the mood among team members but also acts as a mirror reflecting their usual patterns of interaction, thereby nurturing a psychologically safe environment. (Goodman 2024.)

 

Anxiety party

Anxiety Parties, inspired by Google Ventures, offer a structured yet impactful method for teams to confront and manage their collective anxieties, promoting a culture of psychological safety. The process begins with participants individually dedicating ten minutes to identify their most significant worries. Following this introspection, team members prioritize their concerns from the most to the least troubling within a brief two-minute period, preparing to share their insights with the group. (Razzetti 2020.)

In the subsequent phase, each individual presents their top anxiety to their colleagues, who then assess the concern on a scale ranging from zero (indicating the issue was never perceived as a problem) to five (suggesting an urgent need for improvement in that area). This exercise not only surfaces common fears but also allows participants to gauge the validity and commonality of their concerns, often leading to the realization that many anxieties are unfounded, thereby alleviating unnecessary stress. (Razzetti 2020.)

However, the process also acknowledges that some anxieties are based on genuine issues, particularly those that receive scores of four or five. These concerns are then collectively examined to determine necessary actions, be it through individual efforts or team-wide behavioral adjustments, fostering an environment where constructive feedback leads to tangible improvements. (Razzetti 2020.)

Hosting Anxiety Parties twice a year has become a valued practice within Google Ventures, and its adoption by other teams has further underscored its effectiveness in enhancing team dynamics. By facilitating open discussions about anxieties in a structured manner, teams not only demystify and address their fears but also cultivate a supportive atmosphere that encourages openness, feedback, and ongoing personal and collective growth.  (Razzetti 2020.)

 

The “Snowball” icebreaker

The ‘snowball’ icebreaker is a fun way to start a team event or meeting. Here’s how it works: everyone writes down three things about themselves (like their favorite app, last meal, and coffee order) on a piece of paper, crumples it up into a ‘snowball’, and has a quick snowball fight for a minute. When time’s up, everyone grabs a snowball, takes turns reading out the answers, and tries to guess who wrote it. It’s a simple and enjoyable way to share a bit about yourself and break the ice before getting down to business. (Spill Team 2024.)

The “snowball” icebreaker promotes psychological safety in teams by creating a relaxed and inclusive atmosphere. This is achieved through several mechanisms: it encourages participation from everyone with a non-threatening way to share personal details, fosters connections through shared anecdotes, creates a positive environment with playful activity, and builds trust by fostering open communication and mutual respect. Overall, this icebreaker lays the groundwork for psychological safety by establishing a sense of belonging, connection, and trust within the team.

 

Start, Stop, Continue exercise

The Start, Stop, Continue (SSC) framework helps teams reflect on their actions and plan for the future. It focuses on identifying new behaviors to start, unproductive activities to stop, and successful practices to continue. Effective SSC discussions require attentive listening, thought-provoking questions, and open-mindedness. Open-ended questions are particularly useful, as they can expose areas for improvement in both new and existing projects based on team feedback, leading to continuous development and better performance. (Miles 2023.)

Here are some sample questions for initiating discussions in each segment of the Start, Stop, Continue feedback exercise:

Start

These questions serve as a roadmap for workflow improvement, identifying both concrete and abstract areas for enhancement.  They aim to pinpoint specific actions, like adopting new technologies or tools or implementing quality assurance methods. Additionally, they might highlight areas where communication or decision-making processes need strengthening. Ultimately, by considering both tangible resources and intangible approaches, these questions help identify opportunities to streamline workflow and work more effectively.  (Miles 2023.)

 

Examples:

  • What steps could make this process more efficient?
  • Which obstacles were overlooked by the team?
  • What resources, opportunities, or strategies are currently underutilized?
  • What is needed to expand the operation’s scope?

(Miles 2023.)

Stop

This phase focuses on identifying unproductive habits or practices that should be discontinued. While receiving criticism can be challenging, it’s vital for improvement. The key is to create a supportive and diplomatic environment where these issues can be discussed openly without blame or finger-pointing. (Miles 2023.)

Examples:

  • What has complicated your work or resulted in wasted time?
  • Which mistakes or problems persistently occur?
  • What parts of the process are the most labor-intensive with minimal return?
  • Which activities do not align with broader organizational objectives?

(Miles 2023.)

Continue

The “Continue” section focuses on identifying and reinforcing the practices that are already working well. This is important after potentially encountering some hard truths during the “Stop” phase. Acknowledging and celebrating successes can boost the teams’ morale and maintain a positive environment. Additionally, the “Continue” phase can uncover practices that may not be formally recognized but are demonstrably effective. Essentially, the “Continue” segment allows learning from successes and solidifies the positive aspects of current approaches. (Miles 2023.)

Examples:

  • What methods or approaches have simplified the process, and how?
  • Which objectives are being met consistently?
  • What elements of the workflow are crucial and non-negotiable?
  • Who has shown remarkable leadership or resilience during challenging times?

(Miles 2023.)

 

The “Start, Stop, Continue” exercise helps psychological safety through open communication, positive reinforcement, empowerment, and collaborative problem-solving while clear alignment is from continuous learning. These are ingredients required for making an environment in which team members feel safe taking risks, asking questions, and sharing their ideas and concerns without feeling scared about being put down. 

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, cultivating psychological safety within a team is an ongoing process that yields significant benefits. Leaders build such an environment by conducting regular surveys, through diverse team-building exercises, and through open-communication practices that encourage risk-taking for the employees, ensuring they speak out their minds and never shy away from sharing their ideas or learning from mistakes. It would strengthen not only the dynamics of the team to collaborate more often but also pave the way toward innovation, performance improvement, and workplace culture focusing on mutual respect and growth. Remember, psychological safety is built over time, not in one fell swoop. To prioritize these, in other words, to make these practices a habit and something to be consistently put in place, sets up the team and its members for success by being able to be at their best day in and day out.

 

References

 

Goodman, M. 2024. 3 Powerful and Engaging Ways to Create Psychological Safety at Work. Inc. Updated 26.2.2024. Read on 2.4.2024.  https://www.inc.com/matthew-goodman/3-powerful-engaging-ways-to-create-psychological-safety-at-work.html

Kutsko Consulting. n.d.  Exercises to Promote Psychological Safety in Your Organization. Read on 1.4.2024. https://www.kutskoconsulting.com/blog/exercises-to-promote-psychological-safety-in-your-organization

Miles, M. 2023. Start, Stop, Continue: How to implement this retrospective model. BetterUp. Updated 12.6.2023. Read on 2.4.2024. https://www.betterup.com/blog/start-stop-continue

Psychological Safety. 2020. Measuring Psychological Safety. Updated 24.8.2020. Read on 31.3.2024. https://psychsafety.co.uk/measure-psychological-safety

Psychological Safety. 2021. The Circle of Safety Workshop. Updated 6.7.2021. Read on 1.4.2024.  https://psychsafety.co.uk/the-psychological-safety-in-out-exercise/)

Razzetti, G. 2020. 9 Exercises to Promote Psychological Safety in Your Organization. Fearless Culture. Updated 3.7.2020. Read on 2.4.2024. https://www.fearlessculture.design/blog-posts/exercises-to-promote-psychological-safety-in-your-organization

Spill Team. 2024. 10 psychological safety exercises for building a stronger team. Updated 26.2.2024. Read on 2.4.2024. https://www.spill.chat/company-culture/10-psychological-safety-exercises-for-building-a-stronger-team

 

 

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