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As a Scrum Master focused on fostering an environment for my teams where people can fully contribute and innovate, I understand the importance of feeling safe, supported, and valued at work. Psychological safety – the ability to be your authentic self and feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or retaliation – has been shown to be a major component of successful teams.
Why Creating a Safe Space is Important
Creating a safe space in the workplace is essential for the well-being and productivity of team members. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated in their work, and they are more likely to take risks and innovate. Additionally, a psychologically safe workplace can reduce stress and burnout, as team members feel supported and valued by their colleagues.
On the other hand, a lack of psychological safety can have serious consequences. Team members may be hesitant to speak up or share their ideas, which can lead to missed opportunities and decreased innovation. Additionally, a team that lacks psychological safety can lead to high turnover rates, as employees may feel unsupported or undervalued.
The importance of psychological safety has been shown repeatedly in research on team and/or organizational performance over the years. As early as 1965, Drs Edgar Shein and Warren Bennis postulated that psychological safety was necessary for people to feel secure and capable of adapting their behavior in response to shifting changes.
In the 1990s, Amy Edmondson's research on teams in healthcare settings, found that teams that experienced psychological safety learned faster, collaborated better, and prevented more critical mistakes than teams that did not have the benefit of psychological safety in their workplace.
As recently as 2016, Google reported the results of a four year study, code-named "Project Aristotle", that ranked psychological safety as the single most important factor in building great teams.
The Four Essential Elements of Psychological Safety
In his book, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Patch to Inclusion and Innovation, Dr. Timothy R. Clark describes a model with 4 essential elements of psychological safety that teams progress through: inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, and challenger safety.
The first essential element of psychological safety is inclusion safety. This means creating a team culture where all team members feel that they belong and are valued for their unique perspectives and experiences. Diversity is embraced and celebrated. To achieve inclusion safety, it is important to foster a culture of respect and empathy. This can be done by actively listening to team members, seeking out diverse perspectives, and creating opportunities for all team members to contribute to the success of the team.
The second essential element of psychological safety is learner safety. This means team members need to feel comfortable asking questions, admitting small mistakes, and asking for help. To achieve learner safety, it is important to foster a culture of growth and encouragement. This can be done by providing opportunities for training and development, as well as creating a workplace where feedback is valued and encouraged. Learner safety also means creating a workplace where failure is not stigmatized. Instead, mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning and improvement. This can be done by celebrating both successes and failures and recognizing that failure is an essential part of the learning process.
The third essential element of psychological safety is contributor safety. This means fostering an environment where team members feel comfortable contributing their ideas and perspectives. To achieve contributor safety, team members need opportunities for collaboration. They need to feel comfortable voicing new ideas in an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement. Contributor safety also means an environment where team autonomy is valued, and team members are authorized and encouraged to make decisions and take ownership of their work.
The fourth essential element of psychological safety is challenger safety. This means creating a workplace where team members feel comfortable challenging the status quo and offering diverse perspectives. To achieve challenger safety, it is important to foster a culture of constructive criticism and openness to new ideas. This can be done by encouraging team members to challenge assumptions and seek out new perspectives, as well as recognizing and rewarding innovative thinking. Challenger safety also means addressing any resistance to change that may exist in the team. Change should be seen as an opportunity for growth and improvement, rather than as a threat.
Practical Tips for Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace
Now that we have discussed the essential elements of psychological safety, here are some practical tips for creating a psychologically safe workplace:
Creating a psychologically safe workplace is essential for employee well-being, engagement, and productivity. By fostering inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, and challenger safety, you can help your Scrum team(s) create a culture that values openness, trust, and vulnerability. Your team will benefit from the resulting innovation and productivity that thrive in the wake of psychological safety.