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Safety First: The Importance of Psychological Safety in the Workplace

What is the most important indicator of an effective team? At TransLoc, we believe psychological safety is critical to the success of Agile teams. Agile has been deeply supported by our senior leadership team, especially the promotion of psychological safety to establish a strong Agile mindset. We begin by ensuring cultural fit in our hiring process and paying careful attention to the mindsets and diversity of experiences that make up the TransLoc team. Throughout every aspect of our work we invite questions, engagement, and ownership. Our goal is to help people be the best versions of themselves each and everyday.

Many agile practitioners advocate for psychological safety as a top priority for obtaining superior
results. re:Work, an effort by the team at Google to provide data to drive HR and people decisions, shared that psychological safety is the number one factor that sets successful teams apart from other teams at Google. Earlier this month TranLoc’s Agile team attended the TriAgile conference held in our own backyard at North Carolina State University. The annual one-day event is designed to unite individuals from all disciplines to celebrate and share their Agile knowledge and experience. The 2019 conference reinforced the importance of psychological safety as a critical factor in the theme of Responding to Change, and highlighted this throughout several breakout sessions.

Jenny Bramble’s session, “The Only Good Quality Metric for an Agile Team is Morale”, hit home on the importance of psychological safety. Bramble made a strong case for focusing on morale. It quickly became clear how strict counts and measures are attractive because of the ease of interpretation, but can lead down a dangerous path. All too often numbers are easily gamified and more reflective of the process versus the team. This is a lesson that our Agile coach, Eric Hannan, learned early in his career and is therefore careful to avoid using numbers to measure the success of an engineering team. At TransLoc, a dedicated Scrum Master for each team focuses on creating a safe environment for people to collaborate and communicate openly and uses qualitative measures to gauge team morale. By keeping a pulse on psychological safety, Scrum Masters serve the team with intention and insight to work through uncertainty, build connections, and reframe problems.

Yvonne Chen, Agile Coach at CapTech Consulting, focused on the actual implementation of psychological safety within the workplace during her session. She provided several principles for creating psychological safety including using team norms, keeping an open mindset, and making it safe to share feedback. Team norms, also known as working agreements, are a cornerstone of creating psychological safety at TransLoc. These are often created in the first weeks of a team working together and routinely refined. The result creates alignment on expectations and tools for crucial conversations. For example, in working agreements, individuals often define their preferences for giving and receiving feedback, which in turn helps the team meet the conditions necessary for having challenging conversations around improvement and growth. Chen shared unique ideas on how to qualitatively check in with psychological safety during retrospectives. These included measuring safety using a rubric and blind voting, as well as creative exercises that build safety within the team.

As TransLoc continues to grow, our Agile Services team is committed to fostering an environment that embraces curiosity. We encourage our teams to share all of their ideas without fear of rejection or humiliation in pursuit of exploration and innovation.

We are always looking to learn and would love to hear how your organization is actively supporting teams and nurturing growth. Share your lessons, ideas, and resources below!

Interesting in learning how an agile approach produces results in the real world? Check out our RideKC case study to find out more!