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Does Your Team Have Psychological Safety?

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team psychological safety
Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Does your team have psychological safety? This may be a much more important question than you think. It may seem unintuitive but safety is a critical ingredient to unlocking your team’s potential. Google certainly believes so, and Amy Edmondson at Harvard Business School agrees.

When it comes to measuring psychological safety Edmondson recommends running this survey:

  1. If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  2. Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  3. People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  4. It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  5. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  6. No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  7. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

For more details on how to run this survey check out this article.

Running a survey is a good process but it can be fairly involved. What are other ways to gauge your team’s safety?

Pay close attention to how your team interacts.

What do you hear? What behaviors do you observe? Team meetings are great for this. Especially problem solving or decision making meetings. The more contentious the better!

Listen for these safety signaling statements/questions:

  • I messed up
  • I’m sorry
  • I need help
  • I don’t know how to do that
  • What do you think?
  • I think that’s wrong
  • I disagree
  • How do we know that’s true?
  • What can we learn from that?
  • Thanks for the feedback
  • How should we do this?
  • We should do it differently
  • What am I/we missing?

Look for these and similar ones and then watch what happens!

Speaking up is only the first step. The true test is how leaders respond when people actually speak up.

Amy Edmondson, The Fearless Organization

For example, pay attention to these responses or characteristics of the interactions:

  • Do the powerful show vulnerability or just the vulnerable?
  • Are the vulnerable challenging others, or just the powerful?
  • When someone shows vulnerability is it welcomed and supported or attacked?
  • When an idea or person is challenged is that met with curiosity, even gratitude, or hostility?
  • Are the discussions passionate, even heated? Are they about the issues and eventually productive or do they get personal and petty?

In addition look for these other telltale signs of safety:

  • Laughter
  • Common courtesies
  • Eye contact
  • Roughly equal participation in conversations
  • Interesting and lively meetings
  • A desire to spend time together

You can try to observe these live, you can recruit your team or an outsider to observe with you, or you can record meetings explicitly for this purpose.

If you find yourself and the team lacking, then you’ve got work to do! It’s time to build safety.

If you’ve already gone through the process of measuring psychological safety, reach out, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Psychological safety resources

The logical next question is how exactly do you go about building safety? While I do want to write more about that I don’t want to leave you hanging! Here are some good resources:

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