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Why Agile Teams Must Have a Psychologically Safe Environment to Innovate

High-performing agile teams know that planning for new ideas will be full of errors. So, to plan less and act more, they need to have a work environment to fail without dire consequences. In this article at LinkedIn, Scott Weiner explains why you should let agile teams feel safe to fail fast and innovate better.

Safe Incubators for Agile Teams

Agile teams do not wait till the end of the product lifecycle to find out process and design flaws. They learn and rectify their missteps faster to reach a relevant solution. Unfortunately, not a lot of companies would want project teams to fail even once. This mindset does not favor innovation.  Let’s dive into the details of why agile teams must have a psychologically safe environment to innovate:

Staying Away from Experiments: As per Google researchers, one of the key factors to building an effective team is by enabling psychological safety. When teams do not discourage making mistakes, raising a question, or voicing an idea, people tend to take risks. In fact, teammates collaborate more, protect each other, and brainstorm ideas into reality faster.

Building the Creative Space: The Agile Manifesto recommends that you give agile teams creative liberty and trust them to do their job well. Robert K. Greenleaf observed in his essay “The Servant as Leader” that best leaders are servants of their teams. Instead of ordering tasks, they solve issues, guide the teams, and encourage people to explore. They create a safe work environment to innovate by protecting the team against people that can limit freedom. The traditional setup has never taught servant leadership, so examples are few. Leaders must be trained or directed to a certification program that enables such behaviors.

Meaning of Failure: For agile teams, the meaning of failure can be counted as mistakes as long as they learn from the experience. They will measure their actions, be accountable, and make course corrections when necessary. To improve, retrospectives are the best venue to discuss mistakes and note down lessons learned for the next iterations. If your company has not started supporting failures yet, now is the time to speak about it.

Feeling the Safety: The first challenge to making a psychologically safe environment for agile teams can arise from the management of an organization. Managers may talk about failures being the pillar of success but appreciate only those that succeed. The mistakes made during the journey are hidden rather than highlighted. Also, when leaders group their teammates as per skills, intra-team bonding becomes a struggle. Also, HR rewards for individual achievements encourage self-promotion than team collaboration.

Brave Steps Forward: Organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmundson surveys psychologically safety of agile teams by asking them to comment on a few statements. For example, ‘If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.’ Here is a Google guide to finding what your team thinks.

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