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Playbook - Building Psychological Safety on Engineering Teams

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Peter White@petewht

Successful engineering teams don't just happen by chance.

Google found that there are five keys to successful teams:

  1. Psychological safety,
  2. Dependability,
  3. Structure and clarity,
  4. Meaning,
  5. Impact

Psychological safety is the most important of the five keys, and it's all about establishing trust within the team. When team members feel comfortable sharing ideas, feedback, and suggestions without fear of negative consequences, they are more likely to brainstorm and generate even more ideas.

Here's a quick playbook of tips I've used to build psychological safety in engineering teams:

Set clear expectations

As a leader, it's important to set clear expectations for your team. Make it known that you value open and honest communication, and encourage team members to speak up when they have ideas or concerns. Let them know that their opinions are valued and that they have a voice in shaping the direction of the team.

Lead by example

As the leader of the team, you set the tone for the culture. Make sure that you're leading by example, by being open and transparent in your communication, and by actively seeking out feedback from your team members. This can help create a safe space for team members to share their thoughts and ideas.

Help your team find their next job

This sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out.

When team members feel like they have options and opportunities outside of their current job, they are less likely to feel trapped or stuck in their current role. They don't feel like they have to stay in their current job because they have no other options. This sense of freedom can actually help team members feel more secure in their current job.

Furthermore, by helping your team members find their next job, you're showing them that you care about their growth and development, both personally and professionally. This can help create a culture of psychological safety, where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas, feedback, and concerns without fear of negative consequences. After all, you gave that difficult feedback because you want them to grow!

When team members feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to take risks, speak up, and collaborate with their colleagues. This can lead to increased innovation, creativity, and ultimately, better performance on the job.

So, don't be afraid to help your team members find their next job. It may actually be the key to creating a more psychologically safe and secure work environment for everyone.

Make safe spaces to chat with your team

Creating safe spaces to chat with your team is a crucial aspect of building a culture of psychological safety.

When team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings, they are more likely to collaborate, take risks, and innovate. Here are a few tips for creating safe spaces to chat with your team:

  1. Provide privacy: Find a quiet, private space in which team members can talk without fear of being overheard. If working remotely, remind the team member that your notes are private and you won't share anything without their explicit consent.
  2. Listen actively: When team members share their thoughts and feelings, make sure to listen actively. Show that you are engaged and interested in what they have to say by maintaining eye contact and nodding along. It's more important to be aligned than right
  3. Group meetings: In addition to one-on-one check-ins and private chats, group meetings (huddles, guilds or clubs) can also be a great way to create safe spaces for your team. Make sure that everyone on the team has an opportunity to speak and contribute. Encourage quieter team members to share their thoughts and ideas, and avoid letting any one person dominate the conversation.


One way to foster psychological safety is through well-structured retrospectives. Retrospectives allow teams to reflect on what they’ve been doing and collaborate on potential experiments and action items. Over time, well-run retrospectives lay the foundation for building psychological safety.

The key to successful retrospectives is to create a safe space for ideas, which requires buy-in from the team. The facilitator is responsible for keeping conversations focused, ensuring everyone has an opportunity to speak, and dedicating enough time to brainstorming ideas.

Participants should have an easy method to share their ideas, such as writing them down on virtual or real sticky notes. This method helps ensure all voices are heard, not just the loudest ones.

The point is to have fun with it and remember that there is always room for improvement on any team you're on.

Provide feedback and coaching

Regular feedback and coaching can help team members grow and develop, while also building trust and fostering psychological safety. Make sure that you're providing both positive and constructive feedback, and that you're coaching team members towards their goals.

Celebrate successes

Finally, make sure to celebrate successes along the way.

Recognize team members for their achievements, and make sure that everyone knows that their hard work is valued. Celebrating successes can help build morale and create a sense of camaraderie within the team.

However, it's important to note that you should celebrate only the behaviour you want to encourage. For example, if you want to discourage crunch or overworking, don't celebrate team members who work long hours or sacrifice their personal time for the job. Instead, celebrate team members who prioritise work-life balance and still achieve their goals.

By celebrating the right behaviours, you can reinforce the values that you want to promote within the team. This can help create a culture in which team members feel comfortable prioritising their well-being while still achieving success.

Thanks for Reading!

I always appreciate feedback or suggestions for future blog posts. You can find me on Twitter or if you want to improve the article to help future readers, please feel free to submit a PR.

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Duolingo Streak

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