[The importance of] Psychological Safety in a team

Talk #2 from the Agile Peterborough Meetup, 23rd January 2018

“Swearing, Nudity and other Vulnerable positions” by John Le Drew, @antz29

www.agilepath.fm / www.wisenoodles.com


Safety is a difficult concept to understand without the correct language to express it properly. A lot of teams don’t have it, and those teams don’t realise that it’s missing.

Google did a study they called “Project Aristotle”, which deduced that team effectiveness is more about how people work together than it is the individuals who are in the team.

The key things that an effective, motivated team has are:


The belief that your work matters and creates change. Regular progress on meaningful work leads to motivation.


The work is personally important to team members. Meaningful work is not just charity work and ethical stuff. Meaning can come from smaller things, like supporting and mentoring others, improving quality, or anything else that individuals value.

Structure and Clarity

Clear roles, plans and goals, which are understood universally by the team.


The team can be relied upon to gets things done on time and meet the expectations of them. Most importantly, this is an internal attribute - the team members can rely on each other to do what they commit to doing. Dependability is key to forming trust.

Psychological Safety

Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of one another, without the fear of punishment, reprisals or humiliation. It’s not a physical thing, it’s about perceptions. We as a human do not want to do anything which will reflect on ourselves and make others think negatively of our competence, awareness or positivity.

Safety means having no fear of punishment or humiliation for speaking up, sharing ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes with the team. You are ‘safe’ if you can speak your truth without fear and the perception of you as the individual cannot be damaged by what you say.

Without these attributes, a team cannot be engaged with their work. Work is stressful, life is stressful, you can’t avoid that. But engagement with work makes you more resilient to that stress. So, in conclusion - Safety underpins engagement. Engagement helps you cope with stress.