How to facilitate a Safety Check

Eleanor Gibson & Julia Begley - two agile coaches at Tilt - in discussion
Eleanor Gibson & Julia Begley - two agile coaches at Tilt - in discussion

How to facilitate a Safety Check

Facilitate a Safety Check to uncover how safe people feel sharing in a particular group setting. 

This can start important conversations about what we need to do to enable people feel safe enough to start sharing their thoughts more.  Add it into your agenda if difficult conversations are happening or you sense people aren’t feeling comfortable. Or you can plan it in to a session. For example, for a new project team or before discussing a topic that you know will be challenging.  If you want to brush up your facilitation skills, join the next cohort of our facilitation course – you’ll leave ready and raring to lead exercises like the Safety Check. 

1. Explain how the exercise works.

First, explain how the activity works. Start by telling the group that you will invite them to rate their level of safety from 1 to 5.

5: I’m happy to talk about anything.
4: I’ll talk most things; but a couple of topics might be off limits.
3: I’ll talk about some things, not others. I’m willing to talk about why I feel uncomfortable.
2: I’ll talk about some things, not others. I’m not willing to talk about why I feel uncomfortable.
1: I don’t think I will speak at all, I don’t feel comfortable.

2. Explain how you'll handle the outcome of the safety check.

We usually respond differently depending on the lowest number shared:

5 or 4: Continue as planned, with a reminder to be mindful of others comfort levels.
3:         Agree what you’ll do to create space for everyone to feel a little more comfortable.
2 or 1: Change your plans or pause.

3. Ask each person to indicate how comfortable they feel.

Read out the explanations of the numbers and make sure they’re somewhere everyone can see. Ask everyone to write down, or vote for, the number which most represents how they are feeling about the group or the particular conversation.

The exercise should be anonymous so that everyone feels free to score more honestly. If you are facilitating in person get everyone to use the same colour post-it note and pen and collect them all in a bowl or box. If you are using an online white board check your settings so participants can’t see how others have voted.

4. Discuss next steps.

Share the results with the group. Summarise where the majority of responses have fallen and the lowest number shared. Ask for the groups agreement in how to move forward:

5 or 4: “It looks like everyone is feeling pretty comfortable speaking in this setting so I propose we move forward with the agenda as planned. Please let me know if you agree?”

3: “It appears that most people are comfortable talking about most things so we’ll progress as planned. But let’s be conscious that there are some issues which are difficult for some of us to talk about. What could we do today to create space for everyone to feel a little more comfortable?”

2 or 1:“It seems as though the group isn’t in the right place to proceed with the agenda we had planned. Perhaps a better use of this time would be to…”

It’s a good idea to have a plan B prepared in case the scores are low. If you’ve added a safety check impromptu in response to an emerging situation and get a low score, then you can call a short break to adjust your agenda and consult stakeholders as necessary.

Remember that if anyone says they don’t feel safe, you have a problem that is important to work on either now or after the meeting.

Want to build your confidence?

If you want to build your confidence ready to facilitate exercises like the Safety Check, join our facilitation course. You’ll leave with the skills and confidence to adapt to whatever comes up in your meetings.