We’ve defined safety to mean we can take risks and our coworkers/management will support us, especially if setbacks occur. We have the ability to speak our truth without fear of ridicule, rejection, or retribution.

Throughout the day we will feel differently about the risks we’re willing to take and what we might say. I’ve seen conversations spin on a dime when a senior manager stuck his head in the conference room.

How can we measure safety in the workplace? What does it mean to productivity?

The Safety Check

The Safety Check activity provides an understanding of how safe people in a group feel. The group may be an interdependent team, peer managers problem solving, or perhaps a status meeting containing the team, its manager and their director. Each scenario presents different dynamics and you may want to investigate how safety shifts between them.

The Safety Check

1. Introduction – Set the stage for the activity. You’ll probably use a slightly different description for a team brain-storming session than a multi-level status meeting. Briefly explain the process.
2. Prior to the meeting create a flip chart that contains 5 safety levels. The levels range from completely safe, to completely unsafe. This might look like:

Put the flip chart on a wall and share the descriptions for the 4 – 0 values.

Be sure to change the descriptions to fit your context.
3. Handout ballot – some indistinguishable piece of paper.
4. Ask the participants put their safety level on the ballot and fold the ballot in half. Tell them you’ll collect the ballots, create a chart, and you personally will dispose of the ballots.
5. Collect the ballots in a hat or other container
6. Create a histogram that shows the ballots – it might look something like this:

7. Keep the ballots in your pocket or somewhere and dispose of them after the meeting. I usually do so at a different location.
8. Debrief the findings in light of the data and meeting purpose.

The Safety Check measures our truth, our safety. We all have different values for “what makes me feel safe”. Your values apply to you. My values apply to me. As we build the histogram we get a view of how safe we feel. This leads to an understanding of how much risk we’re willing to take and how likely we are to share our truth. Doing the Safety Check first tells us how safe the team feels and if we need to continue with secret ballots.

Knowing how safe people feel starts the data collection.

What Put the Number Where it is?

What has happened that put your safety number where it is? Does your manager yell at you when she doesn’t get the results she’s hoping to? Possibly new to the team and not sure how to work with the others? A team member runs to the manager when things don’t go their way? Arguing and verbal fisticuffs during planning sessions? The examples I offer seem negative. They could have as easily been positive examples.

By gathering this data, team members and managers discover the behaviors that hinder or help with safety.

What Does Low Safety Cost?

A technique I learned from Esther Derby sheds light on how low safety affects performance and innovation. To do this activity ask people to fill in the blanks in these sentences:

“When I feel safe, I can_____________.”
“When I don’t feel safe, I _________.”

The answers generate very interesting results and make the costs associated with unsafe environments visible.

What Would It Take?

By now we know how safe the team feels, how it got that way, and what costs associate with that environment. Technically this next question becomes part of the solutions focus.

“What would it take to raise your number 1 level? If your number is a 1, what would it take to get you to a 2?” Having a list of possible changes provides a path to improved safety.

Do you have another method for determining safety? If so please leave a comment!