Psychological Safety for Agile Teams: Who Gets Voted Off the Island? The premise of the long running television reality program ‘Survivor’ is part of the culture; outlast, outwit, outplay is the program’s mantra. Take those same three words and make them the foundation for a team of any type and prepare to fail. That is just part of the lessons from the latest edition of The Guardian Podcast with Ryn Melberg. To hear the program and avoid being ‘voted off the island’ go to Ryn’s iTunes page, Soundcloud or her web site at www.rynmelberg.com.
What is Psychological Safety?
Roughly defined, psychological safety is a shared belief that members of an Agile team can take risks without fear of blame, expulsion from the group, or even termination. “Agile, Scrum, or Kanban team members need to feel they are safe to be creative,” Ryn told her audience. “Teams need to explore ideas, innovation and creativity which requires risk taking. A fear of failure or the consequences of failure is what keeps people from trying out new ideas and is the end of innovative solutions for the marketplace.”
Insecurity Leads to Hoarding
Just as bad as stifling creativity, teams whose members feel insecure in their roles or jobs are less likely to share their expertise with their colleagues. “Team members need to share what they know with the other members of the team,” Ryn explained. “When people are on teams that are not safe or secure, knowledge that would advance the team is hoarded, and that is not healthy for the organization.”
Psychological safety is a practice that yields very positive outcomes. A climate of openness leads to better interpersonal relationships among team members. It seems that the best teams can admit to errors and discuss them more often with better outcomes than those that do not.
In collaborative cultures knowledge is shared freely because members trust each other and there is no downside for being wrong. Without psychological safety, there is limited trust though with it there is confidence, collaboration, better teams, and better employees. These are people who love where they work, have friends at work, though they may not always like what they are doing. “Companies that create an atmosphere with the shared belief that it is okay to take risks will have employees who stay longer, are happier and more productive,” Ryn said. ‘All of this goes to the bottom line and benefits customers at the same time.”