Psychological safety is defined by Amy Edmonson as the degree to which people are willing to take interpersonal risks. Examples of interpersonal risks are: admitting mistakes, disagreeing with others, and learning something new. Psychological safety makes it easier and safer for teams to learn and try new things and positively influences team performance. Teams are more effective when they operate in environments that make it safe for members to take interpersonal risks. For example, to admit they don’t know something, to offer feedback, to offer help, or to ask for help.
How to improve? 🤔 Here are some ideas to get started!
👉 First, the psychological safety of teams is strongly influenced by the environment in that teams operate. Safety will be low in organizational cultures where mistakes are punished, for example. Even so, psychological safety can still be created within teams in such environments but requires clear work agreements to protect this safety.
👉 Second, conflicts are a powerful source of unsafety in and around teams. Unfortunately, not all conflicts are clearly visible and live under the day-to-day surface of teamwork. So it’s useful for teams to learn how to effectively navigate conflict, how to agree and disagree with each other, and to recover from conflict. External mediators can be brought in in situations of elevated conflict.
👉 Different interventions may be needed based on your findings. When psychological safety is specifically low in your team, it is helpful to talk about this. Psychological safety is often a consequence of counterproductive behavior (e.g. shooting down ideas, not listening to each other, and seeking blame whenever something goes wrong), and behavior can be changed once people are aware of the effects.
👉 If psychological safety is also low around your team, you do well to ask for help from management and important stakeholders.
👉 Finally, our social nature means we are likely to learn more positive behaviors from better role models. You can identify such role models and frequently ask yourself ‘What would [role model] do in this case?’.
Actions to start small and simple are:
1️⃣ During the next (Sprint) Retrospective, ask: ‘What is a conversation we currently don’t have as a team, but really should have?’. Next, have the conversation!
2️⃣ Individually, write down 1 thing you recently said ‘yes’ to, but that you should’ve said ‘No’ to in hindsight. As a team, share notes and explore why it happened and what you can do to prevent this in the future.
3️⃣ Instead of your usual Daily Scrum routine, only ask: ‘Who needs help today? And who can help?’
What is your experience with psychological safety❓ What recommendations do you have to help a team start improving❓
Psychological safety is one of the 20+ factors we measure to determine Agile & Scrum team effectiveness. Based on the results, teams receive evidence-based feedback on how to start improving.
Why don’t you give the Agile/Scrum Team Survey a try? We offer a free version focused on individual teams and a paid version that shows aggregated results of multiple teams.