Sailing: A Powerful Model for Psychological Safety in Fearless Teams

In the world of teamwork, psychological safety is crucial for building trust and collaboration and inspiring creativity and innovation. Interestingly, the dynamics of sailing offer a compelling analogy for understanding and nurturing psychological safety within a team.

Safety, Trust, Resilience, and Leadership: Steer Towards Success in High Winds

Imagine a boat sailing through unpredictable waters and fierce winds, relying on a strong safety foundation. It involves safety for you, your crew, and your vessel. Like in a team, safety goes beyond physical aspects; it includes emotional security and a sense of belonging. Before setting sail, a captain ensures the vessel is safe (procedural safety checks and taking inventory of safety gear), much like how team members need assurance that their workspace is safe to share ideas without fear of retribution.


Trust, essential for any crew, is akin to a skipper’s faith in their team. Trusting your crew means believing in their skills, strengths, and ability to conduct tasks, communicate, and react swiftly and effectively.


Resilience and mental toughness are required while out at sea. Similarly, tenacity and bouncing back from adversity, setbacks, and failures are necessary to steer ahead on work teams.

How do you get your psychological edge and mental fortitude?


Like taking the helm, leadership requires responsibility, humility, goals, vision, curiosity, and exploration. Effective leaders invite participation, implement procedures, and embrace and encourage learning from failure while being empathic, conveying appreciation, and responding effectively– creating an interpersonal climate where everyone feels empowered to contribute.

Teamwork: Harmonizing Strengths

Sailing epitomizes teamwork – synchronized movements and utilizing individual strengths for quick decisions. Similarly, a high-performing team understands each member’s abilities and integrates them seamlessly. Recognizing these strengths leads to effective problem-solving and adaptability.

Embracing Failure and Feedback: Navigating Challenges

Mistakes out to sea, like workplace mishaps, happen. Psychological safety allows for openly acknowledging errors and turning failures into learning experiences. As sailors fix broken equipment, rigging, or navigation errors, teams need to actively resolve issues, errors, and mistakes.

Conclusion: Sailing Towards Safety

The parallels between sailing and psychological safety in teams are striking. Both require a safe and secure environment for open communication, collaboration, and exploration. Just as a captain ensures safety, leaders foster an atmosphere where psychological safety thrives – crucial for steering teams toward success in challenging times.

Psychological safety is the compass guiding high-performing teams – fostering trust, resilience, mental fortitude, learning from failures, and utilizing the team’s collective strength to overcome obstacles. Like a well-sailed boat navigating through high winds and rough waters, a psychologically safe team sails through challenges, resilient and ready for success and innovation.

Recommended Reading:


A Guide to Building Psychological Safety on Your Team

Harvard Business Review


Meet Jodie, your Culture & Transformation Captain. With over twenty years helping people change, facilitating team discussions, building cultures, designing, implementing and teaching classes, your organization is in good hands.