Psychological Safety For Team Performance

When it comes to achieving change and safety they say the best strategy is any technique that you will stick to—and digital transformation is no exception. Nonetheless, given our experience dealing with huge corporations, we’ve seen that certain tactics are more effective than others. For example, we previously discussed why beginning small should always be your Plan A for your digital transformation: it helps you validate your capacity to execute, provides proof of success to ward off naysayers, and earns you extra resources to spend.

Aside from starting small, there are additional internal concepts that we firmly feel are universally helpful and important in any business embarking on its own digital transformation. The necessity of building a culture of psychological safety is one of the most important. This is especially true for the teams in charge of your digital transformation initiatives’ hard lifting. Because, while psychological safety is essential for everyone, it is more vital for individuals who are expected to be innovative, move quickly, and take risks.

What Exactly Is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is a person’s view of the repercussions of engaging in an interpersonal risk. Amy Edmondson, a Harvard organizational behavioural scientist, coined the phrase. She proposed that psychological safety is necessary whenever individuals encounter unpredictability and interdependence—two concepts that frequently come up when discussing digital transformation.

Through our own study, we at Google have come to respect the importance of psychological safety. Between 2012 and 2014, Google People Operations (what we call HR) used data and statistical analysis to learn what distinguishes high-performing teams.

What were the outcomes? It is less essential who is on a team than how the team members interact, and the most important of the five predictors discovered was a sense of psychological safety inside the team. All the specifics may be found on our Re: work With Google site in our team effectiveness guide.

The blameless postmortem, for example, is a fundamental component of Google’s Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) approach. According to John Lunney and Sue Lueder, two Google Site Reliability Engineers, a blameless postmortem “focuses on finding the underlying reasons of the incident without blaming any person or team of poor or improper behaviour.”What is the significance of this? “If there is a culture of pointing fingers and condemning individuals or teams for doing the ‘wrong thing, people will not bring concerns to light for fear of repercussions.”

Psychological safety is another factor that distinguishes high-performing DevOps organisations from low-performing teams. Our DevOps Research & Assessment (DORA) programme, in particular, highlights a generative culture as one of the main characteristics that distinguish high and exceptional performance.

How Should Psychological Safety Be Practiced?

Harvard’s Edmondson provides three examples of excellent behaviour:

  1. Consider the job to be a learning challenge rather than an execution one.
  2. Recognize your own frailty.
  3. Show off your inquisitiveness by asking a lot of questions.

To return to digital transformation, when embarking on a major initiative, the initial focus is frequently on personnel planning and workstream charters. Thinking about ‘how we will be’ is frequently lost in the hustle and bustle of mobilisation, but now is the time to clearly address it, laying the groundwork for how all parties will collaborate. This is why, when we launch our largest client initiatives, we prioritise psychological safety.

The launch workshop might take the shape of co-creating “golden guidelines” for how we’ll collaborate, or it can be a manifesto of behaviours that everyone signs up for. The key, though, is a common expectation that everyone, leaders and team members alike, would adhere to establishing an environment of psychological safety.

Of course, each team’s rules and actions will have their own flavour. What matters most is that you keep them going once the game has begun. We’ve discovered that anything noticeable to establish a routine or habit may be really beneficial for this; it might be as simple as a brief ‘check-in’ to see what’s on people’s minds before a meeting begins. Or it might be something purposefully out of the ordinary; for example, in a recent coaching cohort, the group chose to begin each workshop by drawing an emoji reflecting their current mindset—and explaining their decision to their colleagues. Aside from the opportunity to critique your friends’ scribbling abilities, it offers structure to the start of a meeting, which is typically free-form small-talk and allows the entire group to connect quickly to make the conversation more productive.

How Will You Begin Today?

A large portion of our interpersonal communication is nonverbal in nature. There is no way to know whether a colleague is silent because they are carefully listening, distracted, or in angry disagreement without eye contact and body language.


We are so confident in the good effect of being seen at Google that we made it the default setting in Google Meet. Unlike most other video conferencing systems, we provide you with the option of shutting off your camera before attending a virtual conference, not the other way around. It’s also why we worked so hard to ensure that Google Meet can display the video feeds of up to 49 individuals at the same time.

As previously said, developing a ritual to more equitably ‘share voice’ aids in avoiding a ‘two class’ meeting in which some individuals talk and everyone else listens. There are also Meet add-ons available that measure ‘talk time’ inside a meeting, detecting who is ‘hogging’ the topic and encourage each member to speak and be heard.

It also offers you confidence that the top-ranked questions/comments are worthy of your attention and careful study. Of course, this works only if you completely commit to the tool and declare that you will ONLY respond to questions submitted there! More ideas may be found in Google’s dispersed working playbook.

To summarise, psychological safety is as much about unleashing your employees’ full potential as it is about honestly acknowledging the interconnected and uncertain nature of the challenge ahead.

And the sooner you start modelling Edmonson’s suggested behaviours, establishing “golden norms,” and ensuring everyone can be seen and heard, the more natural it will feel, the simpler it will be to sustain, and the more successful your digital transformation journey will be.

Written by Kusuma Nara |The Entrepreneurs Diaries is now available on Telegram. Join our telegram channel to get instant updates from TED.

Start typing and press Enter to search