Psychological safety strengthens teams2021-09-28
Recently, Tomas Gustavsson was awarded “Best full paper” for his article “Team performance in large-scale agile software development” at the ISD conference.
Tomas Gustavsson received his Degree of Doctorate in 2020 and he has used some the data collected for his thesis in the paper ”Team performance in large-scale agile software development”, where he examines the benefits of psychological safety within a team.
- This aspect didn’t really fit into my thesis as a whole, says Tomas Gustavsson, senior lecturer at Karlstad Business School. I conducted a survey to examine three things:
- The teams’ effectiveness
- The communication between the teams
- Psychological safety
In my article, I wanted to go further and examine whether the soft aspects of teamwork is more important than the hard aspects.
Psychological safety works
Previous research shows that both communication between teams and psychological safety have an effect on the effectiveness of the teams. However, Tomas Gustavsson has shown that the findings regarding the first claim are rather thin.
- I could not find any such connection in my quantitative survey data. Communication between teams is still important, but we should not assume that the teams will be more efficient because of this. I can, however, confirm that psychological safety has a significant effect on a team’s efficiency.
More and more interest in the field of study
Psychological safety has received more attention lately. Amy Edmondson, researcher and former science advisor for Barack Obama, found this increased interest within emergency health care, while Tomas Gustavsson has shown that the same can said about IT.
- By testing my two hypotheses – does inter-team coordination affect a team and does psychological safety have an effect on a team’s efficiency – I can see that psychological safety does, but not inter-team coordination.
What is psychological safety?
- You feel like you can be yourself within a group, explains Tomas Gustavsson. You dare to raise your hand and say that another person’s idea is not completely thought through, without being scolded by the group. Or that you can say that you have an idea that might be completely wrong, without the fear of being laughed at. Amy Edmondson showed that psychological safety leads to the team learning more, which makes it more efficient. I made a direct connection by comparing safety and efficiency and found that they had an effect.
Can it be hard for team leaders to understand that cooperation between teams is not as important as the psychological safety?
- Absolutely. I think it is so easy to point to the hard factors but harder to see the benefits of the soft ones. Soft factors can be so many things, but I think many people have a hard time grasping working in a way that makes people feel safe and secure, in particular. To give praise to your co-workers is one thing, but it is harder to see the benefit of making them feel secure enough to say what they want to say.
How do you reach this kind of safety within a team?
- As team leader, you must lead by example. When there are derogatory comments during a meeting, for example, it is important for the leader to explain that this is not how we behave in this team and that we let everyone speak and express their ideas without being criticised. It is important for the leader to encourage this.
You received a nice award for your article at the ISD conference, what do you hope that the findings of the article lead to?
- I hope that more people will take an interest in psychological safety and realise that it is an important factor in a team. This was central throughout the work on my thesis and something that was important to emphasise.