How do you measure and improve the psychological safety of your scrum team?

In today’s fast-paced work environment, psychological safety is paramount for team success. It’s the foundation that allows team members to speak up, share ideas, and point out problems without fear of retribution. But how do you foster this within your lean team? Here, we explore practical steps to enhance psychological safety, based on insights from Agile expert John McFadyen.

Understanding Psychological Safety

Psychological safety means creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and ideas without fear of negative consequences. It’s about ensuring that team members can speak up and participate in conversations, knowing their contributions will be valued and not used against them later.

Key Elements of Psychological Safety

  • Freedom to Speak Up: Team members should feel free to point out issues and suggest solutions.
  • Inclusion in Conversations: Everyone should have the opportunity to be heard and to contribute.
  • No Fear of Retribution: Concerns and suggestions should not lead to negative consequences for the person raising them.

The Role of the Team Structure

Interestingly, the specific methods or tools your team uses, whether they are working in a lean style or another approach, are not as crucial to psychological safety as the team dynamics themselves. What matters most is the environment you create within your team.

Creating a Safe Environment

As a Scrum Master, coach, or team leader, your goal is to create an environment where team members genuinely believe it’s safe to speak up. This belief will naturally change their behavior to be more open and collaborative.

Steps to Foster Psychological Safety

Here are two key strategies to start building psychological safety within your team:

1. Role Modeling

Role modeling is about showing your team that it’s okay to express concerns and ideas, even if they are controversial.

How to Role Model Safety

  • Be Open and Honest: Share your thoughts and concerns openly.
  • Handle Feedback Well: Accept criticism and feedback without getting defensive.
  • Show Resilience: Demonstrate that it’s okay to be challenged and that it leads to better team outcomes.

Example: Ask yourself and your team, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Often, the fear of speaking up is more daunting than the reality. By openly addressing this, you can reduce anxiety and build confidence in your team.

2. Sharing Vulnerability

Sharing your own mistakes and failures can help create a culture where team members feel safe to do the same.

How to Share Vulnerability

  • Tell Stories: Share instances where you got things wrong and what you learned from them.
  • Encourage Openness: Invite team members to share their own experiences with mistakes and learning.

Example: One of my favorite leaders once stood up in front of the entire team and shared stories of his mistakes. By doing so, he made it clear that it’s okay to fail and that these experiences are valuable learning opportunities.

Practical Tips for Leaders

Pretend It’s Safe

Act as though the environment is already psychologically safe. By behaving as if it’s safe to speak up, you encourage others to do the same.

Strategies to Implement

  • Initiate Open Discussions: Regularly invite team members to share their thoughts on projects and processes.
  • Manage Conflict Constructively: Guide conversations away from personal conflicts and towards constructive discussions about issues.

Create a Culture of Experimentation

Encourage your team to view mistakes as part of the learning process. This helps normalize failure and reduces fear.

How to Promote Experimentation

  • Experiment and Learn: Encourage small, safe-to-fail experiments to test new ideas.
  • Reflect on Outcomes: Regularly review what worked and what didn’t, and celebrate the learning from both.

Conclusion: Building a Safe and Productive Team

Psychological safety is crucial for team success in any working environment. By role modeling safety, sharing vulnerability, and creating a culture of experimentation, you can foster an environment where team members feel safe to express their ideas and concerns. This not only enhances individual well-being but also drives team innovation and performance.

author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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