Psychological Safety in the Workplace, School and Home. YES AND…

Psychological Safety in the Workplace, School and Home. YES AND…
…the secret to Improv success is focusing on making the rest of the team look good/succeed, not your self. The result? The entire team is looking out for you…
From wiki
Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. It is also the most studied enabling condition in group dynamics and team learning research.

Psychological Safety in the Workplace, School and Home.


Psychological Safety is a relatively new buzz word. Google released finding of a four-year study about team formation and success. The big conclusion was how Psychological Safety is the number one reason one team succeeds when another – all else being equal (combination of skills, experience etc) – fails.


FROM How to Build Pschological Safety… In [Google’s] research, they found that the safer team members felt with each other, the better they did in almost every area of work. They were:


  • More likely to own up to their mistakes
  • Better partners to their colleagues
  • Less likely to leave Google
  • More likely to be open to diverse ideas

Psychological Safety is all about making EVERYONE on the team feel like a valuable member. Everyone feels they have a voice and a purpose. Everyone feels they are working in an environment promoting physical, mental and emotional safety.

We have all been in work, study and family situations where someone made us feel less than ourselves. While few have experiences fearing physical safety, many regularly fear emotional and mental safety.

For those that do not have those fears, there are often walls and defense mechanisms in place to survive, so these threats to our safety now go unnoticed (I fall into the this category often – my wife says I have avoidance issues lol). So often outwards signs of strength and ego are actual overcompensation for various insecurities.

In my experience ego & insecurity equally destroy teams and create fears, resentments and a break down in communication. Even many Improv Artists, while preaching “Yes! And…” act in a way that destroys team. I have been guilty at times, no matter how hard I try to create a safe place for all to play. 
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WHY?improv 4 kids

Ego and insecurity are human traits. It takes a conscious effort to constantly over come the pit falls. It is far easier to be miserable than happy – no matter how easy some make it look.

How many teams take a simple team build course, every year attending another routine, to only return to business as usual days – minutes – later.

In order to truly create that perfect environment, it takes great management/leadership. The team leader, school principal, family patriarch/matriarch needs to lead by example and then inspire the entire team to follow suit.

In order to build this environment, the team leader needs to regularly make everyone on the team feel valuable. The google study talks about a SNL habit lead by Lorne Michaels where Lorne will call upon someone that appears to be struggling. Dropping all discussion to focus on that team member, digging into why they are “OFF” that day, regardless of why – business or personal. That team member is reminded they are part of a supportive family.


Photos from 2016 Team Building event for Ernst & Young at the Broadway Comedy Club

Regularly (Daily) lead activities that create a fun work environment. When I lead team building workshops and professional development for teachers I always implore to play these games long after I have finished with their team. Start every meeting with ZIP ZAP ZUP to loosen up and build that team connection. Start every class with a one word story. Use other Improv games and exercises to help role play obstacles – sales, service, office communications etc

What is great about Improv as a path to psychological safety?

We are 100% application, not simply concept. We start with laughter. We have fun – but never at anyone else’s expense. The laughter breaks down the thickest of walls. The laughter alone builds self confidence as we forget to fear amidst the fun times. We do not start lecturing on the pitfalls of bad team behavior etc. Rather we just start playing games. We revert to being five year old children.

We then teach that the secret to Improv success (and any team) is focusing on making the rest of the team look good, not your self. The result? The entire team is looking out for you.

If you mess up, WHO CARES?

If someone else messes up, WHO CARES?

Stop judging yourself and others. Stop striving for perfection. Stop worrying about things being correct.  Suddenly, one by one, we start to look at the team, and the world, with more open minds and eyes and more importantly, ears.

It is THEN we start to talk about Improv techniques, as time permits.

  • YES And…
  • Listen & Respond
  • Be in the Moment
  • Who, Where, What

We cannot BE IN THE MOMENT when we are thinking ahead for ways to make ourselves look great, being prepared with the perfect funny word, joke or line of dialogue.

We cannot BE IN THE MOMENT when we are judging and worrying about what was said moments before.

But when we LISTEN to the team and RESPOND in turn, we often surprise ourselves how easy it is to trust team and self. Over time this process will build, but the second you release yourself from past and future woes, we can thrive in the present – which leads to a much brighter future.

Something else magnificent happens. We tap into a much deeper creative force driven by our subconscious minds. Our minds are an amazing tool, too often limited by conscious thought. We cannot keep all those memories and experiences fresh in our thoughts. We THINK to hard on a single idea which blocks all else form creeping in.

When our focus shifts, we can tap into ALL of our potential. tasks become far more manageable.


The second I learned about the google study findings I introduced the term “Psychological Safety” into my corporate team building work. Soon later, working with a particularly troubled group of teens – they were amazing but the walls of fear were way too think for 14-16 year olds – I told them about the concept.

Their teachers asked “Who here feels psychologically safe?” NO ONE raised a hand. All felt they lacked safety in school. Many felt the same about the home. A few shared problems with physical abuse at home and school. It was freakishly uncomfortable, as that was no where near the direction I was heading, however amazingly enlightening. The teachers shared they wanted to pursue these troubles further, including involving child protective services and diving deeper into anti-bully curriculum etc.

At a school once, at the lunch following a 90-minute professional development workshop for teacher, the principal said “See those two? I thought they hated each other. I have never seen them together. Now they are laughing and discussing plans for a new project.”

We cannot fix everyone. There will always be manipulators and abusers. However most of those fighting the psychologically safe model do so out of their own defensive mechanisms. They have encountered one too many saboteurs to their own physical, mental and emotional safety. They make bad, often offensive jokes, trying to break the ice, forgetting they may be sending a cold chill over the room. They look out for “number one” because so many have tried to cut them out in the past.

Victims of abuse – any kind – usually do not care why they are victims, they just hate being victims.

But I think it is important for both sides to be aware, most of us are just trying to get by each day. Most do not wish us harm when the act in selfish, abusive ways. Many even think they are doing right by the team with “Tough Love” or poorly timed “Jokes”.

In order for any polarizing behavior to end, both sides need to drop walls. Both need to make effort to came back to a center of understanding. For some those walls are so think it seems impossible.

In my experience most begin to melt the second the team laughs together from positive forces. We begin to laugh at ourselves and WITH (not at) others. We let small mess ups go by without judgement. We stop and create a learning moment from larger mistakes, but again without judgement. Through it all we begin to make huge strides forwards as we stop fearing failure and judgement.

It starts with great leadership, but at some point we all, consciously or otherwise, need to make that choice to be part of the team.  One by one the walls will drop. The team will start to thrive and in turn so does the individual.

Very few individuals thrive through selfish actions. Many find minor short term success. But the process burns too many bridges.

In turn, by being a valuable team member, you become a valuable leader. You grow. Opportunity grows. You quickly expand your circle of teams.

So their are very good – selfish – reasons for becoming a great team player.


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