How we support wellbeing and psychological safety as delivery leads

The real magic of teams happens when people feel secure enough to be vulnerable

As well as working with multidisciplinary teams to help them become more self-organising, facilitating continuous improvement and removing barriers to successful delivery, our delivery team always want to create open, collaborative and inclusive working cultures on projects. Here’s how they do it.

Farrah Farhoudi, Operations Lead

I think it all starts with understanding. Understanding that everybody is different, going through different things, impacted by different things and that they deal with things differently. Creating a shared understanding amongst this variation is important, it encourages teams to assume good intentions and avoids misunderstandings.

I like to help teams create this understanding by giving time and space for it. It could be via personal user manuals, a way of working session or having a casual ‘tea @ 3’ to talk about non-work things. Having 1:1s or drop in sessions for team members can also be invaluable. It’s good to spend time working out what works best for those in the team.

I think it’s also important that we rely on each other as a delivery community. We learn a lot from each other. A colleague recently shared an article on how to manage your team in times of political trauma and I took away a lot from it. I particularly like “When we encourage our teams to “bring their whole selves to work” — remember that this includes acknowledging how their lives are impacted by forces outside the office.”

Niall Booth, Head of Delivery

The real magic of teams happens when people feel secure enough to be vulnerable. Asking a question, making a suggestion, and sharing an idea all require a small leap of faith, but are the fuel that power successful projects. As delivery leads, we have an important role to play in building the trust that gives people the confidence to be vulnerable with each other.

A fundamental thing we do is to try and lead by example. That means being open about our own missteps and acknowledging where we could have done things differently. Consistently socialising that it’s ok to make mistakes creates an environment where people feel safer in taking risks.

Adjacent to this is how we try to create a space that prioritises the importance of continuous learning, rather than delivering the work in a preconceived way against rigid milestones. In planning and conversations with the team we encourage experimentation and learning from one another. This is a better, safer place for people to work in.

Vicky Hallam, Delivery Lead

I think creating and maintaining an open and collaborative culture is key when working in teams. We’re all coming to the work with a variety of skills and backgrounds but ultimately we’re working towards the same outcomes and can use our different experiences to contribute to those.

It can be easy to fall into silos, especially centred around disciplines, but it’s about finding ways to learn, share and problem solve with each other. That can take many different forms but could look like asking for feedback on a document, co-working together on a task or non-researchers observing user testing.

It’s also important to remember that team culture will evolve over time. What works when you’re first starting out as a team might not when you’re six months into a project. Using forums like retrospectives and giving opportunities for informal feedback are great ways to reflect and iterate on how you’re working together.

Becca Stagg, Delivery Lead

It’s tempting to want to think you can follow a set of rules or guidance and then Bob’s your uncle: people on your team feel supported and safe, and your team feels healthy. But I don’t think there’s a blueprint you can apply to this part of team leading. We are all individuals and what we need to feel safe varies between us.

The best way to start is to get to know the people you’re working with. Take the time to learn about their home life and their background (if they feel comfortable sharing it), and allow them to reflect and share on the ways that they respond to conflict or stress. With that knowledge in your back pocket it can be easier to spot, or even anticipate, when someone on your team might be struggling or need support.

Encouraging a culture of communication within the team, and modelling that – sharing your own thoughts and feelings – can help others to know that, should they want to talk about theirs, it would be welcomed and heard. Not everyone communicates verbally as easily as others, so ensuring that you reach out regularly to people who don’t feel comfortable talking in a group, over Slack or in another written form, is also really important.

Michelle Szaraz, Strategy Lead

When I voted for the suggestion to write this post, I was more keen to learn how others support wellbeing within teams, than to share tons of my own advice! 🙈

Personally, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting things off your chest in a safe space – both for the team members and delivery professionals… Finding someone you trust, grabbing a coffee, and complaining freely and without judgement, until you feel better, can do wonders for individual and team wellbeing!

But managing team wellbeing can be quite challenging because we are all different from one another. Having diverse backgrounds, experiences and personalities means, we can often react differently to the same situations. This can lead to misunderstandings, but it also creates opportunities to learn and improve! That’s why, as a delivery professional, I try to get to know the team members, understand what works for them, and be very open about myself.

The last one is probably a reflection of my personality (and growing up within a very direct, Eastern European culture), bringing me back to the point about our differences. Yet, despite our differences, we are also all quite similar – we all need to feel safe, valued and respected. And for me, that’s the key thing to focus on when managing team health.