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Psychological Safety – Just Another Trend Around A Buzzword?

According to Google Trends, there is now a record amount of interest in psychological safety searches. This is caused, in part, by the evolving nature of the workplace and the growing influence of psychological safety in deciding the success or failure of a business. The psychological safety of their teams is therefore a priority for agile coaches and scrum masters.

Let’s see if the hype about psychological safety in agile teams is justified and what can be done specifically!

Psychological Safety: Definition & The Research Behind It

Let’s define psychological safety and provide some context before discussing why it’s such a hot topic at the moment.

For the impatient among you, let me say one thing in advance. With our retro tool Echometer, we have created a retro especially for training psychological safety. Please feel free to give it a go, and consider doing it with your team:

Appreciation: My teammates value what I bring to the group.

Team Spirit: Our team has a trusting environment at work.

Transparency: My team members are all aware of who is working on what right now.

Recovery & Breaks: There’s ample space for me to take rests and replenish my energies.

Meeting culture: Our well-organized meetings nevertheless allow for innovation and fresh ideas.

Support: Every member of my team contributes their own knowledge and experience to the group.

Dr. Amy Edmondson, a psychologist, first developed the concept of “Team Psychological Safety” in 1999 while conducting research on the relationship between high-performing teams and error rates in a hospital. She anticipated that the top teams would commit fewer errors. The top teams admitted to making more mistakes, which shocked her. It dawned on her then that teams who do well are more open to discussing mistakes. Conversely, average teams tend to conceal their errors (in the study, they made more mistakes, but it didn’t show because they didn’t report the errors in the first place).

Other investigations also validated the pattern multiple times. And with that awareness came the establishment of psychological safety as a concept. A team’s collective belief that it is safe to take interpersonal risks as a unit is known as psychological safety.

Believing that one will not face consequences or humiliation for voicing opinions, queries, worries, or errors and that taking interpersonal risks on the team is safe constitutes psychological safety.

Definition of psychological safety according to Dr. Amy Edmondson

Similar to how they are employed in surveys, these still largely abstract conceptions in psychology can be deconstructed into particular elements. These products offer a useful viewpoint on psychological safety. Among the things were, for instance:

All members of this team feel able to address problems and difficult questions.

We value results more than output or input, and no one needs to “look busy”.

Amy Edmondson came to the conclusion even then that psychological safety is a prerequisite for organizational learning and creativity as well as the cornerstone of high-performing teams.

The Facts: Benefits of Psychological Safety

The consulting firm Accenture has summarized the benefits of high psychological safety in numbers:

27% less fluctuation

76% more commitment

50% more productivity

74% less stress

29% more life satisfaction

57% more collaboration

26% better skill development/learning rate

67% higher probability that new knowledge is applied

Studies on psychological safety have confirmed similar results since the field’s inception.

There are still a lot of specific ways to investigate, but one thing we know for sure is that psychological safety is a key facilitator.

Why Psychological Safety Is a Prerequisite for Agile Teams & Scrum

The goal of the Scrum framework, like that of all agile working methodologies, is to provide an atmosphere where teams may flourish. However, what happens if the teams make no use of this freedom? Because of how frequently this occurrence occurs, it has been given the moniker “Zombie Scrum.” Among other things, the team’s lack of commitment, ideas, and conversations is the main drawback of zombie scrum. Lack of psychological safety is a major contributing factor to these dysfunctions in agile teams.

Psychological security is still a necessary component of agile teams, just like agile routines and meeting structures are. The Harvard Business Review also reaches the same conclusion:Agility does not work without psychological safety.

High Performance and Psychological Safety: Project Aristotle

Thankfully, Google frequently makes the outcomes of its large internal investigations available to the public through Re:Work.

The accomplishment of quarterly targets, the management, executive, and team assessments, as well as the team itself, were all used to gauge the teams’ overall efficacy.

Google examined more than 250 factors in this study and concluded that team dynamics matter more than individual composition.

And which one was the most reliable indicator of peak performance? Psychological safety, of course.

However, we would not like to downplay the significance of additional elements that the study also found to be crucial:

1. Psychological Safety: Members of the team feel comfortable taking chances and showing vulnerability in public.

Example : “If I make a mistake on our team, it will not be used against me.”

2. Reliability : Team members fulfill Google’s exacting standards of quality and finish assignments on schedule.

Example : “If my teammates say they’re going to do something, they follow through with it.”

3. Structure and Clarity: Teams are structured and have distinct responsibilities, objectives, and plans.

Example : “Our team has an effective decision-making process.”

Meaning: Each team member views the work as personally significant.

 Example : “The work I do for our team is meaningful to me.”

4. Impact: Members of the team feel that their efforts matter and affect change.

 Example : “I am aware of how the efforts of our team support the objectives of the organization.”

Therefore, it is incorrect to believe that psychological safety is the sole essential component of effective teams. Christian’s eBook contains comprehensive background material and activities on the psychological success elements for teams. Twelve sessions on mindset shift and team flow.

Measure Psychological Safety

Is measuring psychological safety even possible? Indeed, Amy Edmondson, the originator, has tested psychological safety. Psychological safety can be measured in a number of ways.

In her research on Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams, Amy Edmondson, for instance, used the following items for measurement:

In this team, you’re frequently held accountable for mistakes you make. (inverted)

This team’s members are competent at handling challenging situations.

On this squad, there are moments when people reject others because they are different. (inverted) With this team, taking a chance is safe.

Asking for assistance from other team members is challenging. (inverted) Nobody on this team would purposefully do something to hinder my efforts.

Working with this team, my special abilities and skills are appreciated and put to use.

Naturally, the question still stands: Is it appropriate to gauge psychological safety? Probably, but proceed with caution. Improper handling of the testing findings can soon cause psychological safety to be compromised.

Results can easily be utilized by management as a tool of pressure, especially in hierarchical settings, undermining psychological security. If the data was handled badly, the framework conditions for an impartial survey were adversely affected, which could be the only reason the results of the subsequent survey are more favorable.

In the next section we look at how to prevent deterioration by measuring psychological safety.

Create and Improve Psychological Safety in Agile Teams

Amy Edmondson provides three easy suggestions in her well-known TEDx Talk on how each person may help create more psychological safety:

Consider your work to be an exercise in learning rather than performance.

Recognize your own human weakness.

Pose a lot of questions and show curiosity.

There are a few additional fundamental obligations and practices that you should attend to, particularly as a team:

1.Creating clarity about values

Values act as a guide while making decisions. When the compass functions well, team members are at ease making choices on their own. Less coordination work and more individual accountability result from this. However, if the compass is shattered, uncertainty results, leading to additional conversations and sometimes contradictory choices. Therefore, it makes sense to, for instance, clearly list your values in your own “culture book” and to add to them specific behavioral examples or anchors from your own business.

2. Use retrospectives for feedback and reflection

It is never easy to consider the ideals and apply them to daily life, even once they are evident. If you don’t take this action, the team members’ perspectives will rapidly diverge once more, rendering the compass useless. The best framework for adjusting the value compass is a retrospective; also, it establishes an environment for candid criticism, which fortifies psychological stability even more.

To facilitate your initial steps, we have created a retrospective on psychological safety. By conducting this retrospective, psychological safety can be measured and enhanced. It’s okay if you’ve never used a retrospective workshop before; our technology is also suitable for novices. The direct link to the retrospective is located at the top of this post, where you have most likely already seen it.


An Essential Function of Psychological Safety in Agile Teams

It’s true that agile teams are currently using the term “psychological safety” a lot. However, given the importance of psychological safety, this hype is largely warranted. Naturally, as an Agile Coach and Scrum Master, you also need to be aware of other psychological aspects of cooperation in addition to psychological safety. Of course, any manager should also address corporate culture and the psychological components of cooperation. Few subjects on the management agenda likely have a larger impact on the long-term success of the organization, even though it may not appear so at first.

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