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The Importance of Psychological Safety

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

Why Does Agile 'Not Work' Without Psychological Safety?

It is no secret that Agile has transformed the workforce in numerous positive ways. For those who have succeeded in adopting Agile ways of working, there has been a dramatic increase in efficiency, cadence, value and quality in the work being produced.

While there are plenty of methodologies and tools to support teams in Agile functions, the key driver of being Agile is practising and embodying open communication. You cannot be a successful Agilist without clear and comfortable communication with the entire team. Having open channels between team members engenders a psychological safety net.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological Safety is the belief that you won't be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.

Why is psychological safety so important?

Being comfortable and vulnerable enough to voice opinions and ideas can allow other team members to offer constructive criticism, candid feedback, use individual suggestions as catalysts for new ideas, and inspire a sense of team collaboration. A sense of psychological safety opens a multi-perspective dialogue for analysis; using combined interdependent brain power to find and assess elements that might not have otherwise been noticed or thought of with just individual input. In essence people who are not afraid or anxious, will produce much better work not only as an individual but also as a team player. When employees are not comfortable enough to talk about initiatives and ideas, the team is not prepared to handle failure.

Embodying psychological safety in the workplace means that power dynamics - and all the things that inherently come with power; intimidation, control, and pressure - do not stand in the way of a person's ability and confidence to speak up. Psychological safety helps to neutralise these feelings of power differentials.

What is not psychological safety?

But it is important to recognise how to avoid mis-using the concept of a psychologically safe environment.

Psychological safety is not an excuse to avoid accountability.

It does not mean everyone must always agree and love - or pretend to love - every idea, notion and suggestion ever made.

There is often a misconception that being psychologically safe means one has to constantly come off as warm, compassionate, hospitable and reassuring. In reality psychological safety creates an environment that allows team members to comfortably and assertively disagree and engage in strong debate.

A lot of the time, it is the debates and back-and-forths that spark the most innovative ideas.

While psychological safety helps to reduce power dynamics, it is important to remember that it does not replace nor undermine authority. It is not required that teams have to make unanimous decisions, otherwise you’d be waiting for a while, and possibly forever, for a final decision.

At its heart psychological safety promotes engagement and collaboration that in turn informs the decision making process.

How can you foster psychological safety in your workplace?

1. Engage in conversation about psychological safety and what it means.

Ensure the team is well versed and across what being psychologically safe expects of them.

2. Encourage members to confidently speak out and voice concerns, thoughts and opinions.

Supporting and promoting suggestions from all team members can help to neutralise intimidation.

3. Create ways to handle unsuitable ideas and failures.

If someone has an idea that is not a right fit for what is required; how will you shut down that idea in a manner that does not diminish their confidence?

4. Welcome and embrace conflict and challenge.

Encourage members to speak out if they do not like something. More often than not, team discussions can spark new ideas and innovative solutions.

Does your Agile workspace employ psychological safety?

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RedAgile are Australia's leading Agile Scrum training provider certified by the Scrum Alliance. As Australia's best Scrum training provider we offer Agile Scrum training courses and consulting services both online and in-person. Our training portfolio includes: Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), Advanced Certified ScrumMaster (A-CSM) and Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner (A-CSPO) as well as our new Certified Agile Leadership Essentials (CAL-E) and Certified Agile Leadership Teams (CAL-T) courses.


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