Psychological Safety
Psychological Safety

Course Description 

This module looks at the role cognitive bias plays in business transformation and the importance of a growth mindset. Within this, it investigates the four stages of competence and the Scrum Master’s role in helping individuals move through them. Then it investigates the importance of psychological safety and how the Scrum Master can facilitate a ‘safe’ working environment which can generate higher levels of engagement, increased motivation and better performance. 

Learning Objectives 

The objectives of this course are to provide you with and understanding of: 

  • Cognitive bias and the four stages of developing competence. 
  • Why psychological safety is important in an agile environment. 
  • How psychological safety can be increased. 

 Intended Audience 

The course is aimed at the Agile Scrum Master. However, it’s equally relevant to the Product Owner’s role in the team. 

Prerequisites of the Certifications 

There are no specific pre-requisites to study this course 


We welcome all feedback and suggestions - please contact us at to let us know what you think. 


We all know about physical safety – it gets drummed into us at home, at school and at work; things like the green cross code; stranger danger; manual handling and fire safety; and, of course, cyber security. 


But what about our psychological safety? 


First, let’s make sure we’re clear about what it is. Here are a few definitions. 


In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. It’s the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake and encourages moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off. And these are just the types of behaviors that make change happen. 


The science bit 

Research tells us that when the workplace feels challenging but not threatening, oxytocin levels in our brain rise, which elicits trust and trust-making behavior. We become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe. Our sense of humor increases, and so does our ability to find solutions and think creatively. 


This then helps foster what’s known as the ‘broaden-and-build mode of positive emotion’ which allows us to solve complex problems and build co-operative relationships.  


The Scrum Master’s Role 

Well, the science sounds pretty compelling, but how do you increase psychological safety in your team? Here are some steps you can follow. 


Approach conflict as a collaborator 

Collaboration is about getting to a ‘win-win’ outcome. Nobody likes losing and a perception of loss can trigger attempts to ‘get even’ through competition, criticism, or disengagement. It’s about speaking human to human and asking, “how could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?” 


Anticipate reactions and countermoves 

It’s important to consider how the team will react to your message and whether they’ll actually hear it or think it’s an attack on them. If a conversation is going to be difficult, prepare yourself for the likely reactions – perhaps by preparing evidence or bracing yourself for the other person to show their emotions. You need to place yourself in their shoes and think about what objections they’ll have to your message – and then work out how you’ll overcome them. 


Replace blame with curiosity 

Blame and criticism escalate conflict, cause defensiveness and lead to disengagement. The alternative to blame is curiosity – don’t make assumptions about what the other person is thinking, adopt a learning mindset and find out the facts. 


Ask questions and actively listen to the responses. Use questions like: 

  • What’s the problem? 

  • What do you think’s causing it? 

  • How can this be resolved? 

  • What can I do to support you? 


Ask for feedback 

Asking for feedback on how you delivered your message can disarm the other person, help you improve your communication skills and illustrate fallibility – which increases trust in leaders.  


Measure psychological safety 

Ask your team how safe they feel and how this could be enhanced. Use questions like ‘how confident are you that you won’t be criticized if you make a mistake?’  


Creating a sense of psychological safety in your team will generate higher levels of engagement, increased motivation to tackle difficult problems, more learning and development opportunities, and better performance. 


There’s more information about psychological safety in the ‘Creating Psychological Safety at Work’ video. And more about the role of leaders in the ‘Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe’ video. You’ll find links in the Change Agent Resources. 


About the Author
Learning Paths

Tony has over 20 years’ experience in Business Development, Business Change, Consulting, and Project/Program Management working with public, private, and third sector organizations.

He has helped organizations to design and create processes and procedures to align ways of working with corporate strategy. A highly motivated and detailed solution provider, utilizing a wide range of methods and frameworks to provide structure whilst promoting creativity and innovation.

As a confident and self-motivated professional with excellent communication skills, Tony is able to bring people together and get them working as a team quickly.

Tony is an Agile and Scrum trainer with a vast knowledge spanning IT Systems, Business Change, Program and Project Management. With excellent presentation skills and a solid background, he ensures that all clients gain maximum benefit from his training. He has successfully guided those new to the industry through their initial training, helped experienced staff as they progress in their careers, and worked at the director level advising on best use and practice, as well as tailoring courses to fulfil the exact needs of clients.