“Treat others how they want to be treated.” Why psychological safety is key for delivering valuable software safely and quickly.

Last month, we hosted our latest Godel Tech Talks virtual event with Andy Norton & Tristan McCarthy from Footasylum, and Tom Geraghty from Red Hat Open Innovation Labs to discuss psychological safety and the pillars of a high performing tech team. If you missed the event, you can watch it here.

Core challenges 

Andy and Tristan spoke of how the Footasylum software engineering teams created the Footasylum Tech Pillars to ensure they communicate, deliver and align themselves to their core objectives.

Andy explained, like so many, the teams were introduced to remote working at short notice. Their teams adapted well, but challenges were identified regarding communication – “Each team is learning its own stuff but not really sharing that with the teams”. It was found that teams didn’t know how to communicate with other teams and there was no place to share knowledge and ideas. As the pandemic continued, it was important to evaluate how individual teams were connecting with each other, alongside challenges including a ‘continental drift’, where they had lots of good people across teams, but they weren’t lined up, and the difficulty of aligning new starters during lockdown into the ‘common mission’.

Building the pillars of a high-performance culture

To understand why teams weren’t communicating, Footasylum sent a survey out to their teams about psychological safety. Andy continued, “The first thing was to listen, get these ideas down and engage with people so we can move forward”. They felt they needed to involve the teams more, so they moved to workshops using virtual tools to extend the conversation.

The four pillars are centred around what good looks like for everyone. These are, making data driven decisions, working in the open, creating a learning culture and delivering value safely and quickly. One of the next steps was about embedding the pillars into the teams. They applied the concept across departments including aligning them to the recruitment process where they saw great hiring success with that approach. They also embedded it into demos, presentations, and their weekly ‘huddle’.

One of the main lessons Andy and Tristan wanted the audience to take away from the event was about the journey, not how their specific pillars can be implemented into another business. Tristan continued, “it was more about the process than the outcomes”. You’ve got to go through your own journey to find your own pillars to align them with your business values – “I think those examples of what good looks like are always going to be very personal to a company”.

Psychological safety is key

Tom Geraghty, Transformation Lead at Red Hat Open Innovation Labs joined us to discuss how a tech team can be elevated to deliver valuable software safely and quickly through increasing psychological safety.

The term psychological safety really came to light in 1999 by Dr Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard business school. She found the biggest factor for high performing teams was psychological safety. She has since identified how teams with the best outcomes made more mistakes than teams with poor outcomes.

In a recent Godel whitepaper, we examined the challenges of building high performing software engineering teams. We found factors including pressure, trust and burnout all contribute to a decrease in wellbeing and high performance within a software team. We discussed how working remotely can lead to a decline in “work-life boundaries and awareness of colleagues’ work”, which resonates with one of the challenges Andy and Tristan spoke about.

The four stages of psychological safety are inclusion, learner, contributor and challenger. It’s been proven countless times that psychological safety is key in team performance and delivery optimisation. When we create learner safety for others, we give encouragement to learn in exchange for a willingness to learn. As Tom states – “you don’t have to be told you’re a leader to be a leader.”

An important stage to measure psychological safety in teams is to present a series of questions which relate to psychological safety. However, as Tom points out, psychological safety isn’t enough on its own to drive performance, teams also need drive, motivation, support and visibility. Tom concluded, “Now is the time to focus on psychological safety, partly due to the covid crisis in 2020 – because it’s the right thing to do”. Check out Tom’s page to learn more about his work on psychological safety in high performing teams.

If you have any further questions or would like to find out about upcoming Godel events, then please get in touch.