76: How Product Managers Can Build Psychological Safety In Their Teams

76: How Product Managers Can Build Psychological Safety In Their Teams

What is “psychological safety?”

Organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson of Harvard first introduced the construct of “team psychological safety” and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” 

Basically, it’s the idea that people on a team can speak up without being judged or ridiculed. In short, psychological safety means, “Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?”

And it turns out, as Google discovered in a research project called Project Aristotle, that, contrary to their initial expectations, the makeup of a team had very little to do with its effectiveness. Instead, how the team members interact has a much, much bigger impact. And of all the factors they studied, psychological safety was the biggest contributor to team effectiveness.

This podcast episode was proximately inspired by reading about psychological safety in Ozan Varol’s new book Think Like A Rocket Scientist. He talks about psychological safety in the context of building space missions – and other major projects.

One idea that came to mind while I was reading that section was that as product managers we often have to act as our own little “team of one” – me, myself, and I! And within that team of one we need psychological safety.

So, this episode is about how we as product managers can contribute to the psychological safety of the “real” teams we work on – our dev team, our team of product managers – and also our “team of one.”

Building psychological safety with your team

  • Praise the developers and testers (all the team members!) even for just showing up.
  • Praise experimentation and asking questions (even dumb ones!)
  • Encourage team members to try new things
  • Remember that people are doing their best
  • No blaming! (I go into this in detail in the episode.)
  • Understand that you can be a “spiritual shepherd” for the team – not in a woo-woo way, but because only healthy teams are effective over time – which means able to deliver your vision to market effectively.

Building psychological safety in your “team of one”

  • No blame – I don’t blame myself, even if I do take responsibility for my actions and decisions and mistakes
  • Praise (myself) for taking a chance or going out on a limb
  • Recognition (of me) for just showing up, because sometimes that’s hard enough
    • This has been especially true this last year, not that I’ve hard it at all hard compared to many, many people.
  • Understand that I’m going as fast as I can
    • This releases me from the impediments of my beliefs
  • Being willing to question anything, even if (you fear that) it makes you look dumb
  • And all the other things I mentioned earlier when interacting with your team.


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