How to Build Team Psychological Safety with Care Calls

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Step away from crisis and towards your people. Bill O’Brien PhD shares five steps and key insights for team leaders.

The Care Call is an activity designed to temporarily step away from managing a crisis and toward supporting the people on your team. 

With a focus on empathy, active listening and mutual support, the Care Call sends a powerful message: “We don’t just care about the problem we’re managing; we care about you.” 

It’s something every leader should be doing on a regular cadence during challenging times. 

Unfortunately, many leaders tend to shy away from conversations that are beyond their control or ability to influence. Most leaders want to be helpful, of course; they want to solve problems and eliminate obstacles. But when leaders do not have the ability to control all of the variables during times of crisis, they may feel powerless.

What is a Care Call?

Care Calls are about creating psychological safety, the hallmark of high-performing teams. 

The activity creates a safe, confidential “space” (physical or virtual) where individuals feel heard and supported – where team members know that the feelings they’re experiencing during a crisis or challenge are normal, appropriate and allowed. 

An effective Care Call generates energy. The simple act of listening to others – demonstrating empathy and validating feelings – can often be the single thing that creates courage and helps individuals face their challenges anew. 

Introductory video from a comprehensive Care Calls program available on SurePeople’s platform.

The Five Steps of a Care Call


Your team members can show up differently at different meetings. This can depend on the circumstance of that particular day or the cumulative effect that their experiences may be having on them. As a result, when the group comes together, the leader should assess the group and make observations by looking at body language and facial expressions.

Key Insight: The leader’s mission is to acknowledge the thoughts and feelings of her team members and not necessarily to change them. Trying to sway someone away from their negative feelings often has the opposite effect – the feeling of not being heard. 


Individuals managing intense circumstances want to be heard. If leaders begin Care Calls with long speeches and talking points, team members may suddenly believe that it’s their job to listen. This is the opposite effect you want. Be aware if the meeting begins to veer into an analytical or problem-solving conversation. This is not about getting all the facts. This is about getting to the feelings. 

Key Insight: Allow people to finish their thoughts. And let the pause happen after each team member speaks. They may use the silence to process what they’ve just said and might add a bit more.  


The first part of acknowledging is demonstrating an accurate understanding of what’s been said by team members. It’s important that you demonstrate that you’ve heard your team members. The second part involves acknowledging the negative realities. Leaders should not become defensive. Difficult times are difficult for a reason, and people likely are scared, exhausted, under-resourced, concerned or confused.

Key Insight: When a leader acknowledges the negative realities team members are experiencing and have just shared, team members become less burdened. 


Balancing the perspective is accurately acknowledging the positive attributes or circumstances that teams can leverage during these times. Balancing is not offering a counter point. It is pointing out that there are reasons to believe that you and the team will persevere. Positive attributes include the team’s strength, fortitude and resilience, or team’s past ability to come together and have each other’s backs. 

Key Insight: When people feel that they have been fully heard – and safely able to express their fears, feelings and concerns – there is a tendency to want to look for positives.  It is these ‘positives’ that create hope, strength and renewal. 


Elevating the conversation is the process of moving the conversation toward mission and purpose. Elevating the conversation answers the question, “Why?”; reinforces team mission and values; brings meaning and purpose to why the team decides to endure rather than retreat; and, brings a long view into the conversation.

Key Insight: Elevating does not have to happen during every Care Call. It must be genuine and authentic. It is not a pep talk. Rather, it is a genuine reflection on the part of the leader. Ideally – like balancing – others will join in the discussion about the team’s vision, values and purpose. 

Are you a leader interested in more information about how to use Care Calls to build psychological safety for your team? Reach out to us.

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