Building Psychological Safety within Scrum Teams

Ruth Hadari
Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Sep 13, 2022
Updated on
Sep 13, 2022
Table of Content

For a Scrum team to be effective, it is essential that members feel safe sharing their ideas and opinions. Psychological safety is critical for team productivity and creativity. This article will discuss ways to create a psychologically safe environment within your Scrum team.

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for taking risks or expressing ideas, even if those ideas are wrong. People feel comfortable being themselves and taking reasonable risks in a psychologically safe environment. They also feel able to speak up without fear of retribution.

Psychological safety is important because it allows people to bring their full selves to work and to share their ideas freely. This environment fosters open communication and collaboration, essential for driving innovation and creativity. 

When people feel safe, they are more likely to give critical feedback that can help improve team performance.

What is Agile Safety?

Agile Safety is a term used to describe the approach that Agile Facilitators take to safety in the workplace. 

Agile Leads believe that safety is a shared responsibility, and they work to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable raising concerns and voicing their opinions. To do this, they focus on creating psychological safety. 

In short, Agile Leads view safety as an essential part of the work process, and they work to create an environment where everyone can safely contribute.

Why Is Psychological Safety Important to Think About?

Improves Employee Engagement

Psychological safety has been shown to have a positive impact on employee engagement. Employees who feel safe expressing themselves and taking risks are more likely to engage fully in their work. 

They are also more likely to feel proud of their accomplishments and have a solid connection with their coworkers and company, and they can achieve the Agile Manifesto principles

In contrast, employees who do not feel psychologically safe are more likely to withhold their ideas and talents, and they are more likely to be less engaged in their work.

Psychological safety is thus essential for fostering employee engagement and ensuring that employees can reach their full potential. 

Increased Innovation

Psychological safety has been shown to enhance increased innovation in the workplace. Managers must foster a culture of trust to create an environment where employees feel safe to take risks and be creative. This can be done by encouraging open communication, valuing different perspectives, and protecting employees from punishment when they make mistakes. 

When employees feel confident that they will not be ridiculed or ostracized for speaking up, they are more likely to share new ideas and take risks. As a result, organizations with a culture of psychological safety are more innovative and adaptive to change.

A Higher Level of Reliability and Performance

Creating a psychologically safe environment is essential for any team or organization that wants to perform at its best. 

By cultivating trust, shared purpose, and leadership that models desired behavior, organizations can create an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks and speaking up. This leads to better decision-making, improved performance, better Agile metrics, and an enhanced learning culture.

Inclusion and Diversity

To create a truly diverse workforce, it is essential to create an environment in which all employees feel included and respected. Employees feel safe and are more likely to speak up and share their ideas in a psychologically safe environment. This openness is essential for fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce. 

Inclusion and diversity are essential factors in creating a psychologically safe workplace, and companies that fail to create such an environment are likely to find themselves at a disadvantage in today's marketplace. It allows different perspectives to be heard and considered, and helps organizations make better decisions.

Enhances Employee Well-Being

Employees who feel psychologically safe are less likely to experience anxiety or stress at work. This can lead to improved physical health and increased productivity. 

Employees who feel psychologically safe are more likely to be creative and innovative in their work. This can help businesses to succeed by generating new ideas and solutions. 

Decreases Employee Turnover

Employee turnover is a significant problem for businesses. It costs money to train new employees, and it can also lead to a decline in morale and a loss of institutional knowledge. One way to reduce employee turnover is to create a culture of psychological safety. 

This feeling of safety allows employees to take risks, experiment, and speak up without fear of repercussions. As a result, employees are more engaged and less likely to leave their jobs.

Improved Company Reputation

Companies that prioritize their employees' psychological safety tend to have a better reputation in the business community. This is because these companies are perceived as being more caring and interested in their employees' well-being. 

In addition, companies with a strong focus on psychological safety are also seen as being more innovative and creative. This is because employees feel more comfortable taking risks and trying new things when they know that their company values their input and supports them. 

As a result, companies committed to psychological safety are more likely to attract top talent and be seen as leaders in their industry.

Improved Health, Safety and Security

Psychological safety is essential to think about for several reasons. First, it can help improve health and safety in the workplace. Employees who feel safe and secure are less likely to suffer from stress-related health problems and more likely to report hazards and potential accidents. 

Second, psychological safety can help improve security in the workplace. Employees who feel safe and secure are less likely to engage in risky behavior such as leaving work early or coming in late, which can lead to security problems. 

Finally, psychological safety can help improve workplace communication and collaboration. Employees who feel safe and secure are more likely to share information and ideas openly, leading to better decision-making and more productive workplaces.

How to Create Psychological Safety

There are many ways to create Psychological Safety within Scrum teams. Some of these include:

Talking About the Four Stages of Psychological Safety

Starting a conversation about the four psychological safety stages can help boost awareness and understanding of this important concept. By talking about the four stages, team members can understand how psychological safety contributes to a productive and successful team environment. 

Engaging in this conversation can also help team members identify ways to create a more psychologically safe environment for themselves and their colleagues. These stages are:

1. Inclusion Safety

Inclusion safety is the idea that everyone deserves to feel safe, connected, and belonging. It's about creating an environment where everyone feels like they can be themselves without judgment or fear. 

This can be achieved through anti-discrimination policies, diversity training, and a culture of openness and respect. Inclusion safety is the right thing to do and makes good business sense. 

A diverse and inclusive workforce is more productive and innovative, and it helps to attract and retain top talent. Creating a safe and welcoming environment for all employees is an essential part of building a successful business.

2. Learner Safety

Team members feel free to experiment, ask questions, and learn throughout this phase. They are receptive to receiving and providing comments (and even feel safe making mistakes). 

This openness is essential for ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to learn and grow. Furthermore, it helps create a safety culture where team members feel comfortable taking risks. Ultimately, this approach leads to a more productive and innovative team.

3. Contributor Safety

As any good Agile Leader knows, contributor safety is essential to the team's success. When team members feel secure and valued, they are more likely to use their talents and gifts to make meaningful contributions.

Of course, contributor safety cannot be achieved overnight; it is a process that takes time and patience. But the effort is well worth it, as a safe and secure team environment will ultimately lead to a more successful and productive team.

4. Challenger Safety

In the final stage of team development, members must feel secure enough to question the status quo when they see an opportunity for progress or change. This challenging stage is important because it allows the team to identify potential problems and find new solutions. 

Team members must trust each other and feel comfortable sharing their ideas to make this stage successful. If team members are afraid to speak up, the team will miss out on valuable input that could lead to improved performance.

Use the Complimentary Postcards Exercise 

One way to create psychological safety within a team is to use the complimentary postcards exercise. In this exercise, team members write appreciation cards to other team members explaining what they did and why it was appreciated. This helps build trust and rapport within the team and create a culture of appreciation. 

The exercise also helps to create a sense of ownership and responsibility within the team, as team members feel appreciated for their contributions. Additionally, the practice can help to build bonds between team members and foster a sense of camaraderie. 

Ultimately, the complimentary postcards exercise is an effective way to create psychological safety within a team.

Make Sure the Scrum Team and Management Align on the Project

The Scrum team and management must be in alignment with every project. If there are gaps in expectations or information, it can lead to anxiety, stress, and frustration for the team. By reducing these gaps, you can help create a more positive and productive working environment. 

One way to ensure that everyone is on the same page is to have regular meetings. During these meetings, you can review the project's goals and ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. 

Additionally, you can use these meetings as an opportunity to update the project's progress and get feedback from the team. By maintaining open communication, you can help reduce stress and keep the project on track.

Active Listening and Curiosity

Psychological safety is critical for team success, and as an Agile Lead you must create an environment where team members feel comfortable speaking up and sharing ideas. One way to do this is through active listening. This involves being fully present when others talk and truly understanding their perspective. 

It also means being curious about their ideas and thoughts and showing a genuine interest in what they have to say. When team members feel like they are being heard and their opinions are valued, they are more likely to feel psychologically safe and be more productive overall.

Therefore, by using active listening and showing curiosity, you can help create a psychologically safe environment that will foster agility and innovation.

Promote Respect

There are a few critical things that Agile Leads can do to promote respect and create a psychologically safe environment. First, they should model respectful behavior themselves. Second, they should encourage all team members to speak up and share their ideas. 

Third, they should value diversity of thought and experience. Last, they should provide feedback that is constructive and respectful. By taking these steps, Agile Leads can create an environment where everyone feels valued and respected and can contribute their best work.

Conclusion

Psychological safety has become an increasingly important topic of discussion in recent years, as more and more companies strive to create a workplace environment conducive to productivity and innovation. 

Psychologically safe workplaces tend to have a lower turnover rate, as employees are more likely to be satisfied with their job. Ultimately, creating a psychologically safe environment benefits both employer and employee.

Additionally, employers must foster trust, respect, and openness to create a psychologically safe workplace. When employees feel comfortable speaking up and sharing new ideas, it can lead to improved communication and collaboration. 

If you're looking for a fun and easy way to improve communication within your team, consider giving GoRetro a try! GoRetro offers a great way to build psychological safety within Scrum teams.

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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