From fixed to growth mindset: How managers can help their team’s performance and the link to psychological safety

From fixed to growth mindset: How managers can help their team’s performance and the link to psychological safety

Throughout your career I’m sure you’ve worked with coworkers that were always looking for opportunities, even when things didn’t go to plan. And I’m just as sure you’ve had coworkers that had blinkers on to new ideas, falling at each hurdle that inevitably comes along. When team members are looking to grow, given the right tools and support, development can be exponential. But how can you support a team member that is more rigid in their thinking and only sees limitations? As a manager, you’re in a key position to help a team member develop and directly influence the culture and psychological safety of the team.

What is Growth Mindset?

Growth mindset is the belief that an individual’s abilities and intelligence can be developed and improved over time through dedication and hard work. It is based on the idea that qualities such as talent, intelligence, and creativity are not fixed traits but can be developed through targeted effort and perseverance.

On the other hand, a fixed mindset is a belief system where individuals believe their abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits that can’t be developed or changed. They believe they are either “naturally” good at something or not, and their potential is limited by their innate abilities. Individuals with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenges, give up easily when facing obstacles, and may feel threatened by the success of others. This can limit an individual’s potential and limit their ability to adapt to change and uncertainty.

The concept of growth mindset was first introduced by psychologist Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” published in 2006. In her research, Dweck found that individuals with a growth mindset were more likely to embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, and ultimately achieve greater success than those with a fixed mindset who believed their abilities were predetermined. Since its inception, the concept of growth mindset has been broadly embraced as a way to foster resilience, grit, and a love of learning in individuals. 

What are the underlying factors that contribute to a growth mindset?

There are several underlying factors that contribute to a growth mindset flourishing. These include:

Belief in the malleability of intelligence and abilities: Individuals with a growth mindset believe that their abilities and intelligence can be developed and improved through hard work and dedication.

Emphasis on effort over innate talent: Individuals with a growth mindset believe that effort is more important than innate talent or intelligence. They understand that hard work and perseverance are key to achieving success.

Exposure to growth mindset role models and environments: Individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to develop this perspective if they are exposed to role models and environments that reinforce the value of effort, growth, and development.

Willingness to embrace challenges: Individuals with a growth mindset are willing to take on challenges and see them as opportunities for growth and learning.

Ability to learn from feedback and criticism: Individuals with a growth mindset are open to feedback and criticism and use it as a way to improve and develop their skills and abilities.

Resilience in the face of setbacks: Individuals with a growth mindset are resilient and able to bounce back from setbacks and failures. They see these experiences as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as evidence of their limitations.

Positive self-talk and mindset framing: Individuals with a growth mindset use positive self-talk and framing to overcome self-doubt and negative thoughts, and to stay motivated and focused on their goals.

How to introduce the idea of growth mindset to a work team?

Managers and leaders play an important role in promoting a growth mindset among their teams. This can involve providing constructive feedback that emphasises opportunities for growth and improvement, rather than criticism or blame. You can also recognise and celebrate employees’ efforts and progress, to reinforce the idea that development and growth are ongoing processes and success is a result of effort and failing forward.

The concept of growth mindset is not just limited to individuals but also applies to organisations and workplaces. Organisations with a growth mindset culture encourage their employees to take on challenges, learn from mistakes, and embrace new opportunities. Growth mindset is also necessary to develop a culture of psychological safety and is the essential ingredient for Learner Safety as explained in Tim Clark’s Four Stages of Psychological Safety, as well as the curious mindset that supports Contributor and Challenger safety. When a team’s culture begins with being curious, embraces continuous learning, and celebrates failing forward, then they are role models of growth mindset and actively creating an environment which is compassionate, innovative and striving for continuous improvement.

If your team members already demonstrate signs of growth mindset, then creating the right forums and stretch opportunities may allow the team to channel their energy and  knowledge. With the growth mindset approach you can actively develop a team that is more engaged and resilient, better equipped to adapt to change, overcome challenges, and achieve both team and organisational goals.

Here are some steps you could take to introduce the concept of growth mindset to a work team that keen for growth:

Model growth mindset behaviours: Model and embody growth mindset behaviours yourself. Be open to feedback, embrace challenges, and acknowledge effort and persistence in the face of obstacles. By leading by example, team members can experience the shift and space to learn and try that can lead to unexpected outcomes. 

Provide an overview of the concept and tools to apply: Explain what growth mindset is and why as a team it’s valuable to embrace it. Use tangible examples to help your team understand the difference and how to recognise if someone is demonstrating a fixed or a growth mindset, and how the latter can lead to greater resilience, innovation, and success. As a team, create shared phrases and questions that will prompt coworkers to reframe to growth mindset.

Set goals and recognise effort: Encourage your team to set goals that align with a growth mindset, such as learning a new skill, taking on an ambitious project, experimenting with new approaches, or seeking feedback. Then acknowledge and celebrate their team members’ efforts and progress. Praise hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to take on challenges, rather than just focusing on outcomes.

Learn from failures: Demonstrate that failure is an opportunity for learning and growth, rather than a source of shame or blame. Share your own mistakes and what you’ve learnt so team members can openly discuss their own mistakes and what they learned from them.

Encourage self-reflection: Ask your team to reflect on their own mindset and consider whether they tend to have a fixed or growth mindset. This can help individuals become more aware of their own attitudes and beliefs, and can help them identify areas where they can develop their skills and offer guidance on how to do so.

The caveats: Its important to recognise that we rarely have one mindset across all scenarios. We may have growth in some areas but fixed in others due to confidence, personal experience, or dynamic of the team. Growth mindset is fluid. If you apply the growth mindset approach of always learning forward, then you can never fail at growth mindset. 

What can be done with employees that are resistant to embracing growth mindset

How we think is deeply rooted in our beliefs and lived experience. If some of your team members  tend to demonstrate more rigid or defeatist thinking at the sign of an obstacle, then introducing the idea of growth mindset with sensitivity and understanding. As well as points above, here are some strategies you can use to encourage a team member to embrace a growth mindset:

Understand the employee’s concerns: Start by understanding the employee’s concerns about change. What specifically are they worried about? What has their experience been in the past? Are they scared to fail? Do they feel like they lack the skills or resources to adapt to new situations? By understanding their perspective can help you address their concerns and develop strategies to overcome their resistance. If someone is fearful, a fixed mindset is a common defensive behaviour to try and feel safe. Recognise how their need to feel safe maybe be impacting on how the team as a whole works together.

Set achievable goals: Work with the employee to set achievable goals aligning to a growth mindset. Encourage them to take small steps towards learning something new, identifying potential solutions, and provide feedback and encouragement along the way. Celebrate their successes and use setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth.

Encourage them to experiment with a different way of being: If a person is behaving in a way that is rigid, then just thinking about doing things differently won’t create a shift because how they are being may align to a deeper identity or fear. To make a fundamental shift we need to be willing to behave differently. Encourage team members to experiment and play with their approach to a problem, and language used, and then reflect on how it felt and how interactions played out. 

Embrace setbacks: Feeling disappointed or frustrated in the face of a setback is a normal and healthy human emotion. We need to acknowledge how we feel but not get stuck there. Using curious questions can help people shift from the emotional response to growth mindset again.

Foster a culture of growth mindset: Encourage employees to share their failures and successes with each other, and highlight examples of growth mindset behaviours and attitudes. If fear of failure is holding a team member back, it may take months of modelled behaviour creating psychologically-safe Learner Safety, before they may feel comfortable embracing a growth mindset.

Provide support and resources: Offer support and resources to help the employee develop a growth mindset. This could include coaching or mentoring, training programs, or books that focus on developing a growth mindset.

Be patient: Change takes time, and it’s important to be patient and persistent in encouraging a team member to embrace a growth mindset. Everyone learns at a different pace. It’s also important to recognise when someone is not open or ready for development.


To promote a growth mindset and psychologically safe culture, it’s important for you as a manager or leader to model the behaviour you want to see. Provide opportunities for learning and development, and reward effort and progress, not just achievement. This can create an environment where everyone feels supported in taking risks and pursuing growth, rather than feeling afraid to fail or stuck in the status quo. A growth mindset can help individuals and organisations be more innovative, productive, and adaptable in an increasingly complex and dynamic workplace.

Andrea has spent over 25 years working with organisations, leaders and employees at every stage of a business and career life cycle. She has created positive impact for organisations through her work with executives, leadership teams, and diverse functional teams within the arts, education, government and media organisations as examples. With over 15 years experience within career development and coaching, her direct knowledge of individuals fears and challenges and insights across a broad spectrum of sectors and organisations, creates a unique understanding of what employees need to thrive.