Update: I developed an online tool to measure psychological safety in your team. Team members anonymously fill in a questionnaire, the tool provides the results in graphs. Find it at https://teamboosters.nl/en/psychologische-veiligheid
A while ago I wrote a post about psychological safety. My fellow Scrum Master Aernout van den Burg was inspired by it and came up with the idea of creating a way of measuring it in a Scrum team. We put our heads together and each started experimenting. In this post I will explain how I measured psychological safety in one of the teams I help. By the way, I am doing a talk about the subject at the Agile Tour Kaunas conference this month.
When would it make sense to measure psychological safety in a team? I would say that you probably feel it when the teams lacks it. You would see signs of distrust or – more subtle – of a lack of trust. Team members are mainly busy with their individual tasks and their own needs, and there seem te be no conflicts in the team. People are not listening to each other, but talking over each other, though never really getting into a heated debate. Soft sighs, rolling eyes, looks and sounds that, for me, say enough.
I saw all this in the first retrospective I attended of one the teams I coached. When I confronted the team with their behaviours, they did not recognise what I said I had seen. Also when talking to the team members one-on-one they all said they thought the team was doing fine and there were no major issues. After a while I saw the same behaviours continued to exist. It was not incidental, and that’s when I decided to measure the climate in the team. Research from Google suggests that the primary and fundamental factor of team effectiveness is psychological safety. Therefore I choose the psychological safety construct to measure team climate with.
Scientist Amy Edmondson is the leading expert on the topic. Psychological safety is defined as “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking“. Edmondson developed a validated questionnaire for measuring psychological safety. I took the statements from the questionnaire and translated them to Dutch. Each statement was measured on a five point scale. I also added for clarity a description of the opposite of each statement.
Before sending the survey to the team members I asked them all in person if they were willing to participate in this survey. I assured them they would fill in the questionnaire anonymously and asked them to be completely honest. Luckily, they all wanted to fill in the survey.
By the way, I developed an online tool to measure psychological safety. It is completely free. Find it here:
Not surprising to me the results showed that all was not roses and sunshine. The team though was surprised. The most interesting (read: lowest scored) statements were: In this team, it is easy to discuss difficult issues and problems; Members of this team value and respect each others’ contributions; and When someone makes a mistake in this team, it is often held against him or her (reversed scored). I shared the results in a retrospective, we talked about it, but did not work on any solutions yet. I wanted the results to sink in and let them think about it for a while.
For me measuring psychological safety was the first step toward the team acknowledging that things could be improved and that not all was well as they have been saying all along. The questionnaire helped make the issues concrete and transparent.
Want to know the level of psychological safety in your team? My free tool gives you the insight.