ASA 003: Psychological Safety in a Virtual Team – 4 Steps to Mastery

Today you will discover what is psychological safety and why we all want to have it in our teams!

Monika Chutnik
Psychological Safety in a Virtual Team – 4 Steps to Mastery

In this episode I am talking about Psychological Safety – what is it and how to drive it in your team. With me there is Kasia Romanowicz, experienced leadership trainer and consultant from ETTA Leadership & Consult.


In this episode you will learn:

  • Why to care about psychological safety in business?
  • What does psychological safety comprise of?
  • What are the levels of psychological safety?
  • What you can do as a leader to ensure or increase psychological safety in your team?
  • What leaderships skills are helpful for enabling psychological safety in your team?

This episode might be interesting for leaders who have a direct influence on psychological safety in their teams, but also for HR who creates development programs for employees. When you listen to this podcast please think about the person who could really enjoy and benefit from listening to it and share with them.


Three things that I take away as key messages from this conversation:

  1. Psychological Safety does not always mean the same, and we can be on various levels of it in a team
  2. Step 1. towards Psychological Safety is always Inclusion
  3. Lack of Psychological Safety creates a threat to business sustainability and wellbeing of individuals


I wish you fun and discovery!


Leave your comments below or on A Step Ahead LinkedIn profile. If you want to stay in touch, sign up for the newsletter and ✔follow A Step Ahead Podcast in your favourite streaming service 🧡.

If you need to educate leaders in how to create psychological safety in your remote teams, or if you would like to increase  inclusive leadership practices, or resilience of your employees – please contact us at ETTA



Materials mentioned in the episode

  • Podcast ASA 001 – Human Centered Leadership – The Cure for Times of Change




Why to care about psychological safety?


I think that you can find some really good examples on the Internet and literature. For me the example was once when I wanted to watch a movie in the Friday evening, and we chose “Downfall”. It’s a very short Netflix series. It shows really impresive example of what happens when there is no psychological safety. The series starts with the crash of two planes. There was a long investigation after that. It turned out that the Boeing company didn’t make a training for personel to show how the new system works, so no one used it properly. For a long time the company’s policy have been more and more focused on profits, instead of safety of the employees. People who reported some problems were fired. Finally, that led to serious accidents. People prefered to stay silent than report issues or suggest changes.

The same happens in your organisation. If people in the team don’t feel psychologically safe, everything can go in really wrong direction.


How does it combine with the creativity?


Generally when we speak about the definition of psychological safety it is about the belief – the belief of people in a team that they are safe and can take a risk. Taking a risk is one of the components of the creativity. So if you have this feeling that your boss will not reject or punish you, you can risk and think out of the box. This is psychological safety. People can be creative, feel comfortable with being themselves and speak up. It opens new doors: to diversity, inclusion and creativity.


How can we translate this fuzzy belief to some specific observables?


If something seems fuzzy it can also feel overwhelming. “How to make my team psychologically safe? It sounds like a great philosophical idea. It’s too much for me!” What might be helpful is the concept of  Timothy R. Clark who wrote about 4 stages of psychological safety.


Stages of psychological safety


1. Inclusion Safety – “I feel accepted / included” – you feel safe to be yourself, you are accepted for who you are, including your attributes and characeristics. It is a level that sounds very basic and fundamental but even this level is sometimes a challenge in many organisations. For example, it can be difficult for women in some industries to be themselves and show that they think differently than their colleagues.

2. Learner Safety – “We can all learn from mistakes” – if your team is here, you feel safety to exchange, ask questions, give and receive feedback, experiment, make mistakes. Especially the last element is not so obvious in many companies in our part of the world.

3. Contributor Safety – “I can actively contribute and propose changes or improvments” – you feel like making a contribution to your team, you want to add some touches to projects, suggest your ideas. You feel invited to take action.

4. Challenger Safety – “I can opose somebody with a contrudicting view” – you don’t only feel safety to make mistakes or add something from yourself, but also to challenge your colleagues or even boss. To be here, you need to have 3 previous levels first. On this level you can really take benefits from diversity in your team.


Google’s Poject Aristotle

Google handled very large project – Project Aristotle. Google as a global organisation, found out that within the company there were very good teams that were performing really well and people wanted to belong to them. There were also other teams that didn’t perform so well and people didn’t stay in them for a longer time. Google researched the actual carachteristics of perfect teams, traits of people and leaders of the teams. They wanted to find perfect combinations of traits.

They found out that characteristics of people who were in the teams didn’t matter. Traits or education of leaders didn’t matter. What mattered was the team’s norms.

The most important norm was that everyone was invited to talk and contribute in a safe and comfortable way. What about people who don’t want to speak? You should to at least ask them for their opinions.

Another norm was average social sensitivity. People in “good teams” feel how others feel, react to expresions and emotions. And synchronize with them. In virtual teams this is more tricky but possible to achive.


Psychological Safety in ETTA


In ETTA we’ve done quite a good job in the area of Psychological Safety. We challenge each other – it’s stressful but we manage to do that. How we’ve build this feeling is that in our asynchronous communication we share our feelings, difficult situations, moods. If senior member of a team does it, others also feel that they can. Maybe it is still not perfect but it’s transparent. We seem to know each other well and know what to expect from them.

Getting the feedback of each other is also relaly important. We spend some time synchronously and asynchronously showing that we are humans, talking, learning who we are. We also developed some mechanisms to talk and be close.

Hints and tips for leaders


Inclusion stage

The first fundamental step is to get to know your team members. Our clients often say that they have the feeling that they don’t know people who joined recently, in remote environment. We also work on that in ETTA – meet new people and talk to them, get to know them.

Learner stage

What do you do as a leader? Try to sincerely ask for feedback, show that you learn new things, don’t pretend to be perfect, ask for opinions, show that you also make mistakes. Then, not punish your people, especially new joiners – maybe they need the buddy and learning space.

Contributor stage

Invite to discussions, share a lot and show that it’s OK. Show your both professional and private side. If you disclose, there is a chance your team will disclose too.


Remember that you need to have time to talk. Leader cannot be focused on instructions and team only on doing tasks. Discussion is not a waste of a time. It is crucial.

A good example from our client is organising long breaks between meetings for deep work, and also organising meetings just to talk and feel closer to each other.


What leadership skills can benefit?


Empathy, skill of observing, being in contact, regulation. Communication skills, asking questions. All these are in a package, we can improve them. If you are not this kind of person, you don’t talk to people a lot, you can create reminders to ask your team about something important for them, to talk about something, etc.

In ETTA helpful was also to use FRIS to learn who’s got what cognitive styles, approach to learning, communication. We know each other better and know what can help us to get into the next level of psychological safety. You can use a methodology to get to know your team, too.


Your key message?


Psychological safety is really essential for the teams to be productive, not to go to wrong direction. It can be relief to identify 4 stages and try to move step by step. Although psychological safety is not so obvious in virtual environment, you can use some tools and methodology in remote and hybrid teams.


Thank you!


Photo by Matthew Waring on Unsplash

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