As my team and I go deeper into our research on Psychological Safety and its correlation to the effectiveness of the team at the cornerstone of profitability in this day and age of rapid tech, one of the things we are doing, is work our way through the Aristotle project suggestions that Google left us with at the end of their experiment and we are working hard to distill which ones are truly working in practice.
Team performance depends on productivity, predictability, responsiveness and quality of work according to Larry Maccherone. Of them, predictability and quality of work can be assessed by the Agile framework in place but productivity and responsiveness can always be traced back to the existence or the absence of Psychological Safety.
Of all the data points it seems that the clearest correlation between team behavior and creating and fostering Psychological Safety is whether or not team members feel they have been heard.
Is this all about speaking up in meetings? Not necessarily. It’s also about communicating what makes intense sense for you as an individual in terms of purpose so a good team leader can give you more of those tasks and keep you more in the know with how those develop and how your contribution matters. for instance. It is about feeling like the memo you sent was read or your point of view taken into account. That you would be asked for your opinion before any major decision that affects your work or that you will be listened to when you explain something. Of course, all of this presumes the employee has the emotional involvement and the courage to express themselves.
What if you have had the courage to express what matters to you and yet you don’t feel you’ve been “heard”?
The internet is heaving with suggestions as to what we can do as employees to make our voices heard louder in particular when it comes to minorities and diverse groups who are notoriously disadvantaged when it comes to expressing their opinion at work. “Be louder and clear or hunt for your next position” is the gist of the advice but we all know it is a lot more complex than that.
By the time we systematically feel like we are never being heard, it has already become such a big problem that it can’t be salvaged as we have resorted to completely disengaging emotionally with the team and its leader and we are simply going through the motions on automated pilot.
While a lot should be done by ourselves as employees in valuing our contribution enough to speak up more consistently, if we accept that productivity and therefore profitability is intrinsically connected to the well being of the team then this is a business problem and one that needs solving by those invested in reaping those business benefits.
Nowhere is this more visible of a topic than in Agile teams where the teams are by default tight-knit, clear on goals, having an intense mandate and expected to precisely and predictably deliver fast. So while this is something that needs to be on the radar of any self -respecting company leader, making the team feel safe and starting at ensuring they always feel heard is the firm to-do of any product owner, scrum master or team leader of any sorts.
But having someone tasked with owning and progressing a complex set of tasks to a fast and clear goal while expecting them to do so mindfully, respectfully and with great empathy to their teammates is a lot to ask. This is, in fact, expecting every Agile team leader to be an efficient de-facto psychologist while driving a backlog. A tall order indeed in particular when you deal with teams of professionals so unaccustomed to being heard and feeling safe that they rarely speak up and express opinions or feelings unprompted.
We are asking or team leaders to always be mindful of everyone having the same level of visibility of the progress, always avoid any of Patrick Leoni’s 5 dysfunctions, we’re asking them to ensure all team members are presently aware of the impact their work has on the business at all times, we’re asking them to never be on the defensive, never judge, always be open and curious and learn to love their colleagues as people but most of all, we’re asking them to start with the most human of all tasks – listen.
It’s a lot but the most essential task is the simplest – employ emotional intelligence and exercise empathy and curiosity enough that you keep abreast of everyone’s “heard” status.
In the years to come there will more and more software solutions that like us, will establish a better forum and use behavior data to help team leaders do just that, our children will routinely count on technology to enhance their humanity but meanwhile we must do this “being human” in the most “manual” of ways. Remind ourselves our team members are well-intentioned, smart, kind, invested mates and “hear” them. Openly, without judgment, with genuine interest and relentlessly.
That is if we want to see the promise of working in an agile fashion realized and care about results in lieu of lip service and box ticking.