Psychological Safety: The missing ingredient in high performing business teams

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In our fast-paced world, where many companies are on a digital transformation journey, high performing teams are coveted, but hard to build.

One challenge is reconciling Agile ways of working within the wider business structure and culture. A trait that’s often overlooked is psychological safety: the sense of confidence that someone will not be embarrassed, rejected or punished for speaking up.

Psychological safety is essential in a world where we require digital teams to be efficient, innovative and constantly learning. It’s also a core component of achieving the ‘test and learn’ mindset many teams strive for.

Consider the remote working challenges imposed by coronavirus, and it’s easy to dismiss psychological safety as low priority. But now, more than ever, it counts. Digital teams are often at the forefront of helping the enterprise pivot and adapt: psychological safety gives them the permission to do this.

AND Digital enables ambitious companies to accelerate their digital delivery. We help clients build both better products and stronger teams – however, in the current climate, many people are wondering what teams will look like post-lockdown?

Take a cue from Google

Google launched Project Aristotle in 2012, studying 180 teams over two years to find the formula for team effectiveness. The key ingredient was psychological safety, as people with higher levels of it:

  • Were less likely to leave
  • Listened to and adopted ideas from their team
  • Brought in more revenue
  • Were considered more effective

With this data, Google implemented new measures to foster psychological safety, including role-playing scenarios to illustrate appropriate behaviours, and guides to help management create more open environments.

Psychological safety in your team

Project Aristotle is a benchmark study for companies to consider, but the reality is that many don’t have the same time or resources. However, there are many ways to deliver the same results.

At AND Digital, we have a team of Agile coaches who work with clients to consider culture on a deeper level – including fostering psychological safety. Here are two great exercises we’ve run with a client in the Thames Valley to embed psychological safety:

  • Introduce an open door policy: doing your planning in your main office space, where appropriate, allows anyone to contribute. Done well, this exercise does wonders for visibility and engagement, sending a clear message that all ideas are welcome.
  • Use Lego figures to enable open conversation: while this sounds like child’s play, it’s an established practice called Lego Serious Play. By focusing on the Lego, barriers come down – creating a safer environment when tough conversations need to be had.

We believe psychological safety is paramount to building a great team and, in turn, delivering great work. Without it, your people can feel restricted with how they can contribute, innovate and grow, when you need them to bring their smartest thinking to the table.

If you’d like to have a conversation about psychological safety and building high performing teams, email hello@and.digital.

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AND Digital have offices across the UK. The Reading office covers the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and The Thames Valley.

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