Building psychological safety

A build-measure-learn approach, focused on teams

Why psychological safety is important

At Elsevier, we place strategic importance on having inclusive, engaged and agile teams. Therefore we need an inclusive environment for our teams to operate in where everyone is treated fairly and respectfully, has equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.

Ways in which a lack of psychological safety can lead to people not contributing fully

A build-measure-learn approach, focused on teams

We wanted our approach to be grounded in people’s experience of psychological safety. It is in a team, as the unit of delivery, where the majority of most people’s perceptions of psychological safety are formed/experienced. We therefore decided to create an approach that is focused on teams.

The build-measure-learn feedback loop is a core component of Lean Startup methodology

A simple process

We have designed a simple process which is available to teams on demand and will be driven by teams, supported by trained colleagues and a pool of specialist external facilitators.

  1. The team review their survey results and learn about perceptions in the team.
  2. In a facilitated workshop, the team discuss those learnings and use their insights to select a small number of actions to build greater psychological safety
  3. The facilitator re-administers the survey a few months later to re-measure the level of psychological safety in the team, and in another workshop the team use those new results to learn more (e.g. what effect their actions had), and agree new actions to continue to build greater psychological safety.

A comprehensive set of resources for everyone

As we learnt more about psychological safety ourselves in the project team, we gathered together and curated a comprehensive set of resources for everyone in Elsevier.

A peer-to-peer program

Whilst our approach is focused on teams, it relies on having people outside the teams to facilitate their psychological safety workshops.

Supporting our facilitators

Passion alone isn’t enough: as a central project team, we want to provide our facilitators with the resources and support they need.

We’re using a number of different approaches to support our facilitators
  • Understanding participants’ perspectives
  • An introduction to our detailed facilitator materials, which include templates and step-by-step guidance
  • Facilitation skills

A community of practice

We are now working with our facilitators to develop a community of practice to share learnings​. This will be an informal forum to share ideas and best practices, to network, and to support and challenge each other. We’re planning to provide the community with:

  • regular deep dive/repetition training content,
  • practice sessions, and
  • coaching to help new or developing facilitators.
Posters to show the value of communities of practice from Tacit, a specialist consultancy.

Matching teams and facilitators

Given our aim of having an ‘on demand’ service for teams, and in order to operate efficiently and effectively at a global scale, we need a way with minimum/zero manual effort to match ‘demand’ from teams to be part of this program and have a facilitated workshop, with the ‘supply’ of our trained facilitators. Achieving this requires taking account of several factors:

  • we want to ensure that facilitators are not called on to do more workshops than they’ve signed up for
  • we want to allow teams/facilitators to work in their own timezone and language of choice.

Credit to the team

We’re almost ready to launch the program so that teams can sign up for a survey to measure their level of psychological safety and a facilitated workshop. Getting to this stage in just 3 months has been an amazing team effort. We’ve been a small, international, cross-functional team. We’ve all got full-time day jobs, and we took on this project on top of our normal work because we wanted to. We’ve tried to live by our own values: we’ve used some of our own tools and resources to build psychological safety in the project team, and we’ve measured our own level of psychological safety — we had the highest score we’ve ever seen in a team!

Senior Director @ElsevierConnect doing product strategy implementation & performance. Mainly writing about getting from A to B, & digital stuff. Personal acc’t.