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Psychological Safety and Handling Challenging Conversations at VTCT

Summary: Fostering psychological safety through workshop-based interventions, introducing and embedding framework for handling challenging conversations, and enabling the organisation to accept this as the standard approach across teams. 

The Challenge

Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT) is a specialist awarding and assessment organisation offering vocational and technical qualifications in a range of service sectors. With more than 2,000 approved centres worldwide, VTCT has an ever-expanding list of centres throughout the UK and Ireland, with a growing international presence.

VTCT has expanded through both organic growth and mergers and is keen to ensure that is has an open and honest culture that enables support and challenge within and across its teams. The VTCT leadership had identified Psychological Safety as a key element in the culture they wish to foster in their growth phase. In particular, they wanted to ensure that mechanisms and ways of working were created that enabled constructive challenge and feedback to occur within a psychologically safe context.

The Approach

We agreed a programme of 2 workshops, the first conducted with direct reports of the Executive Board and the second conducted with the Executive Board itself. We developed a Psychological Safety survey, using an evidence-based framework, which was completed and analysed prior to the sessions to provide a snapshot of current levels of Psychological Safety. We designed and delivered the workshops to maximise individual participation which was critical given the potentially sensitive nature of the topic. The workshop objectives were to:

  • Describe Psychological Safety and the relevance for VTCT
  • Discuss our current state in order to agree our future ways of working
  • Develop a clear action plan and commitments

Impact provided a summary of Psychological Safety and a review of the evidence supporting its importance and impact for organisations. This led into a working session translating the theory into the client context and why it is important. Working sessions then focused on current strengths and opportunities to promote Psychological Safety and specific actions that could be undertaken.

Finally, participants were trained and practised a framework for handling challenging conversations. A review was conducted which summarised the feedback and priorities from the group perspective. The same broad agenda was used with the Executive Team with the addition of summary inputs provided by their direct reports.

The Outcome

Feedback indicated a clear and consistent understanding of Psychological Safety and its importance for the organisation. The team developed a clear set of actions and priorities to further promote Psychological Safety and to ensure this becomes engrained in the organisational culture and ways of working.

The challenging conversations framework provided participants with a practical tool which could be used immediately, and feedback indicated a desire to use this as a standard and accepted approach across the teams.