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Remote scrum teams have become the new normal in many workplaces. With the pandemic, remote work has become a necessity, leaving many teams to figure out how to build trust and strong relationships with their colleagues. One of the most important aspects of any successful team is developing psychological safety.
Psychological safety is the feeling of comfort and trust that team members have when they can express their ideas and opinions without fear of negative judgment or repercussions. This psychological safety allows team members to be more creative, open, and productive, as they feel they can take risks without fear of failure.
Developing psychological safety with remote scrum teams can be challenging. With the right strategies, teams can build a strong foundation of trust and collaboration that will carry them through to success.
What is psychological safety?
Psychological safety is the feeling of comfort and trust that people have when they can express their ideas and opinions without fear of negative judgment or repercussions. This allows teams to be more creative, open, and productive as they feel they can take risks without fear of failure. Fostering psychological safety is a key area of focus for Scrum masters to support maximizing team communication and collaboration.
Psychological safety has five elements: Belonging, Trust, Autonomy, Purpose, and Resilience. Each of these elements is important to ensure that the team feels connected and can be creative together.
Why is psychological safety important?
Research has clearly shown that teams, whether in-person or remote, are measurably more successful when they enjoy psychological safety than when they do not.
Working remotely presents several challenges, including fewer opportunities for informal interactions, reduced social support, and delays in communication or missing important information. While some of these challenges can be addressed with the right tools and processes, psychological safety is one element that requires careful attention.
This is crucial, as it is the basis for trust and belonging within the team, which are essential for building strong relationships. Building trust and belonging are essential for all collaborative scrum teams. Distributed teams, with everyone working remotely, have special challenges in developing the sense of belonging, and the feelings of trust that are integral to the collaboration and communication necessary to succeed.
While tools like video conferencing, cloud-based project management tools, and online collaboration apps can help remote teams stay connected and productive, the lack of personal interactions can make it more difficult to build strong bonds with team members. When team members feel that they belong and that their voice is heard, they are more likely to feel motivated and engaged, improving the overall performance of the team.
Strategies for developing psychological safety
As the old adage goes, “People don’t change, but the way we respond to them does,” psychological safety is a process and not an outcome, so it’s important to be mindful of this when developing strategies to foster psychological safety within your team.
Here are some tips and strategies to ensure your team is on the right path:
a. Foster open communication
Open communication is essential to psychological safety, as it is the gateway through which communication flows in every other aspect of safety. This means providing team members with ample opportunities to communicate, both synchronously and asynchronously. If a team member has an idea, question, or concern, they should feel comfortable expressing this to the team. Conversely, team members should feel open to communicating with one another about their goals and progress, either online or in person. Tools like Zoom and Slack, which are popular among remote teams, can help facilitate this type of communication, encouraging routine check-ins, open discussions, and virtual meetups.
b. Create clear roles and expectations
Clear roles and expectations help to create trust and reduce uncertainty, which is important for psychological safety. This does not mean that team members have the same roles as they would in an in-person team – it just means that there are guidelines for how team members should communicate and collaborate with one another. Confusing or unclear expectations can create doubt and lead to questions about the team’s goals and strategies, which can hinder communication and creativity. A discussion around working agreements can be fruitful in setting base expectations that everyone participated in making and everyone understands.
c. Establish a sense of community
A sense of community is a strong indicator of psychological safety. This means that team members feel like they are part of a group that they are committed to and want to be a part of. They also feel a sense of belonging within the team, and that their contributions are appreciated and valued. This can be achieved through virtual meetups, shared activities, and other methods of creating a sense of community, such as hosting a virtual retreat.
d. Encourage feedback
Feedback is the vehicle through which team members can express their needs and desires. By encouraging team members to provide feedback, either formally or informally, leaders can open up a channel of communication that can help resolve issues, find new opportunities, and create a more balanced team. This can help to reduce uncertainty and create trust within the team. Retrospectives, perhaps leveraging digital whiteboards and other tools – can be a key building block in developing community and trust.
It comes down to relationships
Every team member brings something different to the table, and the best teams are those that leverage the strengths of their members. To build a strong, cohesive team, each team member must feel that they can contribute and contribute well.
This can be challenging when working remotely. However, some of the best practices for building psychological safety are built into the Scrum framework: sprint planning promotes team autonomy and purpose; daily scrum meetings help team members get to know one another and promote belonging and trust; sprint retrospectives are a great way to synthesize the learnings from a team's experience and develop resilience. Sharing these experiences helps build stronger relationships and make everyone feel connected.
With some attention and the right strategies and tools in place, any team can develop psychological safety and thrive in a distributed environment.