Saturday, December 31, 2016

Psychological Safety leads to High-Performing Agile Teams

There are two types of safety that factor into a healthy and productive enterprise environment and high-performing teams.  The first is physical safety. This is where employees have an environment where they are free from physical hazards and can focus on the work at hand. This type of safety should be part of the standard workplace promoted by company and government regulations.

The second is psychological safety that is core to enterprise effectiveness. According to Google research, high performing teams always display psychological safety.  This phenomenon has two aspects.  The first is where there is a shared belief that the team is safe to take interpersonal risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.  The second is how this type of safety along with increased accountability leads to increased employee productivity and ergo high-performing teams. 
Psychological safety helps establish Agile in that it promotes a safe space for employees to share their ideas, discuss options, take methodical risks, and become productive.  An Agile mindset promotes self-organizing teams around the work, taking ownership and accountability, and creating an environment for learning what is customer value through the discovery mindset, divergent thinking, and feedback loops. Agile with psychological safety can be a powerful pairing toward high-performing teams.   

However, accountability without psychological safety, leads to great anxiety.  This is why there is a need to move away from a negative mindset when results aren’t positive or new ideas are seen as different. If this occurs, employees are less willing to share ideas and take risks.  Instead consider ways to build psychological safety paired with team ownership and accountability of the work. This can lead to high performing teams. 

Everyone has a role to play in establishing a psychologically safe environment.  Agile Coaches and ScrumMasters can help you evolve to an enterprise where psychological safety and accountability are paired. Leadership has a strong role to play to provide awareness of the importance of a safe environment, provide education on this topic, and build positive patterns in the way they respond to results of risk taking by teams.  Team members must adopt an open, divergent, and positive mindset that is focused on accepting differences and coaching each other for better business outcomes.  Employees at all levels must be aware of the attitudes and mindset they bring.   


  1. Environment alone cannot create or engender teamwork among individuals nor can it create the team to solve problems or accomplish work.

    To form a team, the individuals must have a common goal. Furthermore, there must be more work than one person can do or require more knowledge, skill, or experience than one person possesses. If these conditions are not met, there is no need for a team (i.e., more only one person can accomplish all that is necessary to do the job).

    Also, "psychological safety" is NOT a requirement for teamwork. Even in a hostile psychological environment people can work together despite their differences. Perhaps the clearest example of this is sports where players are competing ferociously for positions, salary, and recognition, but must still function cohesively to win games.

    For more information, read my LinkedIn article, "Building High-Performance Teams" --

  2. Shelley, I disagree. Psychological Safety is a requirement for a HIGH PERFORMING team.

    Your sports analogy overlooks that players on team sports understand they are part of a team; those who are not good teammates are generally not around for long. And teams full of individuals are generally not successful.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Yes, indeed, a team needs psychological safety to become a high performing team. In fact, accountability and responsibility without safety leads to anxiety which can detrimentally impact high performing teams.

    Evidence is pointing to the fact that to achieve high performing teams, psychological safety to risk or push the envelope without negativity has to exist. Recent Google research provides evidence of this.

  5. All teams have competition, and this can be healthy or unhealthy: which it is depends on the environment, including the psychological one. A sports team can benefit from competition within the team, as long as it is cooperative competition. An agile team can benefit from competition within the team to learn new things, and contribute new ways of doing things, as long as those competing and succeeding share their learning with the rest of the team and coach those who are perhaps not a successful.

    Unhealthy competition in a team can destroy it, with no sharing of advantages, differing rates of progress, no "passing of the ball".

    It is the job of the ScrumMaster and the Coach to watch for unhealthy behaviours and turn them into healthy ones.

  6. Absolutely Richard. Your thoughts are well shared in creativity research. The roots of Agile can be seen through the eyes of creative problem solving.


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  11. This blog brilliantly emphasizes the critical role of psychological safety in fostering high-performing teams. It's heartening to see the recognition of this often-overlooked aspect of team dynamics. Creating an environment where individuals feel safe to take interpersonal risks and be vulnerable is key to unlocking creativity and innovation within teams. As we strive for excellence, resources like NDIS psychosocial recovery coach services in Adelaide can further support individuals in navigating the complexities of team dynamics and personal growth.