Last Updated on August 10, 2021

Here’s a free icebreaker training activity you can use and especially if you are teaching Psychological Safety or something related to workplace or employee training

You can have the participants work in small groups and this helps to get them interacting and to know each other i.e. as an icebreaker exercise. It’s also great for bringing out ideas about issues regards how we feel safe or not in the workplace.

Free icebreaker psychological safety training  activity

Activity Timeframe

The ideal timeframe for this activity is 10 minutes.

Getting Started

Start by asking participants to form groups of 3 or 4 people.

Then give them a sheet of A1 paper per group and some marker pens.

Next, ask the groups to brainstorm and come up with a list of things that makes them feel safe to speak up.

To help them come up with ideas, ask participants the questions on the slide below.

Explain that they do not have to share their experiences with the other people in the group if they don’t want to, but they can just think about it in their head if they prefer.

Give groups 5 minutes for the activity.

After the 5 minutes are up, start a discussion with the whole class for each group to share their ideas with the rest of the class. Allocate about 5 minutes for this.

If You Are Teaching Online

Use breakout rooms to separate participants into groups.

Participants can write down their ideas by using an online whiteboard, a chat or an online tool, such as Lino or Padlet. Once the group activity is over, bring the participants back to the main room for the whole class discussion.

Factors that Drive Psychological Safety

The participants may have come up with some of these items already during the activity.

Factors that can have a positive impact on psychological safety at work.
PowerPoint PPT Slide – Psychological Safety Materials

Use this slide to summarize the points, compare them with what the participants came up with and add anything that was not covered.

1. Positive relationships with leaders

A positive relationship can be encouraged by a leader who is accessible and approachable and explicitly invites feedback.

This openness to communication and listening to one’s team members in the workplace is one of the most important factors of all for psychological safety.

2. Work characteristics

This refers to the design of the job role.

Does the role involve interdependence (i.e. the necessity to work with other people drawing from each person’s contribution so that a greater goal is reached)?

Does it encourage autonomy (i.e. allowing an employee to shape their work environment so they can perform to the best of their ability)?

Is the role clear (i.e. it has clear aims, objectives and responsibilities)?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then employees are more likely to feel safe to speak up.

3. Supportive organizational practices

This refers to an overall supportive work context.

A company that, for example, provides good support for their employees through clear processes and setting clear objectives and that promotes appreciation of diversity and inclusion aids psychological safety.

Also, a company that promotes active listening skills and trains their staff in how to pay attention fully when someone is talking is a great example of building a supportive organisational structure.

Active listening includes behaviors such as showing with your body language that you are listening and summarizing what the other person said to make sure you understood. Being present and focus on the conversation. These are skills that can be taught.

4. Strong relationship networks

This has to do with having trusting relationships with colleagues.

Do you feel that if you share ideas and suggestions with colleagues, for example, that you will taken be taken seriously and not demeaned? Does your company, manager and workplace promote strong networks between staff?

5. Practice fields

This means the opportunity to run trials, simulations and dry runs.

Employees will feel more at ease with failure if they can run trials before the real thing, particularly if they work in fields that involve high risk.

The most successful companies actually have a high failure rate in terms of the things they try. It makes sense when you consider that innovation and experimenting involves making mistakes before finding a good solution.

The question though is does your company understand temporary failure and its place in success and foster allowing staff to experiment?

6. Personality traits

The personality traits of emotional stability and openness to experience have been linked to psychological safety.
Emotionally stable people are more likely to perceive an environment as psychologically safe because they tend to be calm and relaxed and secure, as opposed to anxious, hostile and vulnerable to stress.

People who are open to new experiences tend to be curious and imaginative with a preference for novelty, therefore they are more open to other people’s perspectives.

Personality traits on their own cannot guarantee that a team will be psychologically safe, as the right team’s dynamics are essential for psychological safety. However, having at least some people with these traits in the team can only help.

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Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds

Valeria has been involved with education for over 16 years. She has taught in the UK at the University of Bath and Cardiff Metropolitan University (where she got her PhD), in addition to working as a researcher at Exeter University. Valeria additionally has several years of experience of also working with Ofsted and Cardiff University in management roles & is she is the founder of Symonds Training.