top of page
  • Jon Mechan

Creating Psychological Safety

I watched the finale of the most recent series of The Apprentice (UK) the other day.

It's an interesting show. Not because it's in any way reflective of real business practices. At least I hope it isn't. No, it's interesting because it shows how people behave in psychologically unsafe environments.

For most of the series, the participants (or should that be contestants) attempt to get through each of the challenges presented to them, while staying ahead of the dreaded "You're fired".

In order to do that, they cover their asses, assign blame, backstab each other, and generally act in incredibly self-interested - and frequently unproductive - ways. This results in creating products that are so obviously awful that they get humiliated in the boardroom.

That all changes in the final.

In the final round, the remaining two candidates prepare adverts, pitches, and branding for the business they want to create. They do this with the support of teams filled with previously-eliminated participants.

And, what do you know, now that they're striving for a greater goal, and the dog-eat-dog competitive element is mostly removed, they start behaving completely differently. They all pull together, support each other far more, the finalists lead their teams far better, and they produce the best work seen for the entire series.

So how can we apply this lesson to leading our teams?

How to create psychological safety

1. Define a common goal

Make it clear to the team what they're aiming for. What does success look like? Share that openly and regularly, and be open to feedback.

2. Drive people-centered leadership

Ensure your leadership team is aligned. Care about your staff - they're not resources to be used, they're people, with skills, ambitions, and lives outside work. Seek to understand their motivations and help give them purposeful meaningful work. Drive this mentality in your managers.

3. Create open dialogue

  • Create feedback loops - use your 1:1s to get a good sense of what's happening, and be open to constructive input from your team.

  • Avoid casting blame with your team members - if things go wrong - and they will - look for constructive solutions and encourage an attitude of learning from mistakes.

  • Look out for people with negative attitudes - try to dig in with them to find out what's behind that, and see how you can help. Don't let it spread to the team.


A team that feels psychologically safe will be happier and more productive. Have a look around your team today - are people jockeying for position or are they focused on the overarching goal and how they can support it...?

Let me know what you think.

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page