Psychological safety and mental health in times of crisis

Psychological safety and mental health in times of crisis

On the 13th of May I did a talk online. This post is about the talk, some questions, and resources that came out of it. If you want to read about the thougths and emotions before and after the talk, there will be another post later.

You can find the video of the talk at the end of this post.

The forum was Agile Testing Days US, the topic was “Psychological safety and mental health in times of crisis” and the idea was to start out with a talk and leave plenty of time for questions.

Despite having a lot of time for questions, I did not make it through all, so the first thing I will do in this post is to answer the remaining ones:



What is the first step to bring the topic of Psychological safety to the team that is never heard of this?
I find that a good first step is to start talking about it. Maybe say “I heard about something called psychological safety in a webinar and found it really interesting, let’s have a talk about it?”.
In general, I think this is a good way of introducing many things. Sometimes people tend to come home with fresh ideas and want to change a lot of things and the rest of the team can feel defensive. A way to mitigate that is just talk about it, and why you found this interesting. The why is essential no matter what we do.
If they then show interest, you can consider showing them Amy Edmonson’s TEDx talk; I find that is a good introduction.

Any suggestions on ways to support colleges that you know are struggling during this time? 
Show people that you care; tell them that if they need to talk, you are willing to listen. If it feels aqward to have tell them that, you can choose to just invite them for a remote coffee 1-1. A lot of the things we can see and do in the office are hard to do remote, but I find that it still works to have small conversations over coffee.
Maybe introduce a “how are you?” question in the dailies so you start discussing things like that in the team. Maybe share if you are not feeling well; take that first step to vulnerability that helps other feel safer in showing theirs.
Genuinely care for people and ask how they are, what you can do to help.

So, if it’s okay to not say something or to not feel safe enough to say something, how do we deal with others trying to engage us when we choose not to speak up?
When I work with the right to pass or not to speak up in teams, it is an agreement. When I do it in workshop, these are rules that I state in the beginning.
The way I use it, people say “pass” if they have nothing they want to share. As a facilitator I remind people “it is okay to pass”. This works because we have an agreement.
If your team does not already have this agreement, you can do one of two things: you can have a proactive approach and bring it up with the team, so that you can add it to the team agreements. Or the reactive approach is to say “I prefer not to share”.

The hard part can be if you don’t have a place that is psychologically safe, then people might not respect this. So sadly, you cannot assume that this is the case. If your environment is unsafe it takes work to get to a point where not sharing is okay, and there may be a lot of other things that need to be in order first.

How to do you deal with psychological safety with people with mental issues? Not everybody has a good mental health.
I believe that psychological safety is just as relevant if you have a mental problem as if you don’t.
Those two are not connected. People with poor mental health will have some things they need to feel safe, just as people in good mental health will have some things they need. They may be the same or they may not. It is very individual.
Whenever you start working on psychological safety in an organization or a team, one of the things that needs to be found out is what makes that group feel safe. There are some general things that you can work on, and then the rest is individual. It requires building of trust and having those difficult and open conversations.

So many good questions and these were just then ones I did not have time for.



As I was focused on speaking and I knew that people from ATD was keeping an eye on it, I did not look at the chat during my talk. Afterwards I started reading it and was pleasantly surprised to see how many tips and tricks people shared with each other, so I decided to share some of them here as well:

Jackbox Games
* Some Good News SGN

Make headspace
* Limit intake of news.
* Work in the garden and talk to frogs

Work tips
*Schedule meetings to 45 minutes instead of an hour. That gives everyone a breathing space in between meetings.
* Talk in the team and with team leader about personal limits
* Video or no video; limit number of meetings a day.
* Try apologising for working in people’s homes to help them get around the feeling of needing to apologise for their kids or pets being “noisy” etc.
* Allocate time for water cooler chats and everyone can join that meeting.
*Use happiness Histogram which helps turn the mood/feeling into data and you can watch the trend over time to see where things triggered feelings or when you need to support people.

*To those interested in public speaking: read “Confessions of a public speaker” by Scott Berkun
* has good stuff  related to how psychological safety is a prerequisite to team success.

As you can see there were many good tips and tricks 

Another thing that I noticed from the chat was how many people recognized what I was talking about and thereby felt less alone. Even if that is all that comes out of my talk, I consider it a success.

You are not alone; others feel this way too. Some feel different, and that is also okay.


Be kind to yourself and to others, and stay safe.


(first shared on:

About Gitte Klitgaard


Gitte is an agile coach, hugger, friend, and much more. She lives and loves agile. She took the oath of non-allegiance. Why fight over methods when we can use that energy to help people?

Gitte wants to change the world by helping people make the right product, doing it right and very important: have fun doing it.