Motivating Psychological Safety
When team members feel safe to take risks and to exhibit vulnerability, team performance improves. When that safety is absent, team members hold back ideas and team performance is impeded. Leaders can increase team effectiveness by creating a psychologically safe work environment.
If you lead a software team, you need to understand how to produce psychological safety.
When team members feel safe, they are much more likely:
- to ask for help,
- to admit a mistake, or
- to adopt new responsibilities knowing that their team will support them.
The net result is a team that learns faster. By learning, the team becomes more effective.
Google’s internal research into team effectiveness lists psychological safety in 1st position on a 5-item list of factors affecting team performance [video]. (The results are described in a New York Times article.) This research is especially compelling for software team leaders, as it deals not merely with knowledge workers generally, but with software teams specifically. Google’s novel research is also compelling by its data-driven ethos.
Google maintains a website with guides on team effectiveness. The site says “of the five key dynamics of effective teams that the researchers identified, psychological safety was by far the most important”.
Entire books have been written on the subject of psychological safety; I agree with this choice of the best 3.
- Video: Building a psychologically safe workplace by Amy Edmondson and TEDxTalks.
- Why psychological safety matters and what to do about it by Amy Edmondson and Jeff Polzer, Harvard Business School, 6 September 2016.
- Guide: Understand team effectiveness by Google on re:Work.
- Tool: Foster psychological safety by Google on re:Work.
- Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work by William A. Kahn, Academy of Management.
- The Best Books about Psychological Safety.