How and why to run a Team Index

Measure psychological safety and team efficacy as leading indicators of performance
We can probably all agree that, as we are likely to spend more time with our colleagues than our friends and family, feeling comfortable in our team is pretty important on a personal level. However, it is also incredibly important at an organisational level that teams feel safe to take the interpersonal risks associated with speaking up publicly, asking for help, admitting when they’re wrong and experimenting.

These behaviours, coined learning behaviours, are of utmost importance for teams to succeed in navigating complex, changing, and ambiguous environments (which, arguably, most of us find ourselves in these days). While working from home may have changed whom we spend most of our time with physically, it hasn’t changed the importance of teams feeling psychologically safe.

Psychological safety, a shared belief that it is safe to take interpersonal risks within a team, is a leading indicator of learning behaviours and team performance.

Learning behaviours and psychological safety influence team efficacy, which is the shared belief that a team has the ability to succeed.

During my time at Red Badger I worked on a project with Mission Beyond on fast-paced project that required us to work through ambiguity and run light weight experiments to develop a product strategy for a social mobility platform. This style of project is hard to navigate unless team members feel supported and set up for success. We created the Team Index as an early indicator of when we might need to change our ways of working to enable our success.

We ran the survey weekly, collecting responses anonymously, and used the outputs as part of our team metrics. However, through running the survey we came to realise that it also acted as an awareness and behaviour changing tool, as the questions began to nudge behaviours that built psychological safety and efficacy in our team. The Team Index was such a success, that we rolled it out across Red Badger and then created a playbook with the iterations and learnings from other teams.

Below is a summary of how to run and analyse the Team Index, but I recommend you read the playbook for more information

Running the Team Index

7-point Likert scale question: Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
Example Team Index question

Before getting started, it is worth introducing the Team Index and its foundations (psychological safety and team efficacy) to your team and explain its purpose and value. Once everyone understands that the Team Index is run by the team, for the team, you can begin trialing it. It's best to agree with your team how frequently it makes sense to run the Team index, as every team's context is different there is no perfect cadence, but my suggestion would be every 2-4 weeks to make sure it engrains habits that build psychological safety.

The Team Index leverages questions (some designed by Amy Edmonson), that measure team efficacy and psychological safety on a 7-point Likert scale:

Psychological safety questions are used to create an average score:
  • If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you. (reverse-scored)
  • Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  • People on this team sometimes reject others for being different. (reverse-scored)
  • It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  • It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help. (reverse-scored)
  • No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  • Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilised.
Team efficacy questions are used to identify the team morale about the work:
  • The high level goals and vision for this team are clear
  • It is clear what my role and day-to-day tasks and duties are
  • What this team is supposed to accomplish is achievable within the expected timeframe
  • This team can achieve its task without requiring us to put in unreasonable time or effort.
  • This team allows enough time for screen breaks, time outside and daily movement.

You can run it anonymously via a survey tool (like Typeform) or if your team is small enough, you can write the questions onto a whiteboard (or copy them to Metroretro) and ask people to add their scores onto sticky notes.

Analysing and sharing the results

A graph showing Team Efficacy and Psychological Safety score trends over time
Example Team Index Dashboard

The first thing you need to do is determine the average of each score, and identify any outliers. Outliers are any scores that are fairly different from the average and could indicate that one person needs some extra support with sharing feedback about ways of working with other members of the team.

The questions are ranked on a 7-point scale, where a 1 is 'very inaccurate' and a 7 is 'very accurate.' Here's how you might interpret the scores once averaged:

  • Scores of 1-3 identify a potential issue (address these sooner rather than later)
  • Scores of 4-5 highlight an area for improvement
  • Scores of 6-7 indicate that things are going well

It's normal for teams who have just formed to have scores around 4 or 5 and to see dips in scored when team members join or leave, or when there is complexity, ambiguity or change happening within the organisation.

If you start to notice a downward trend in any of the scored, but especially the psychological safety scores or wellbeing scores, it's worth discussing the potential causes and solutions as a team. If the scores dip below 3, the team may not feel comfortable sharing the issues in public, so I'd recommend having one-to-one discussions to identify the causes and then bring the group together to come up with ideas to solve the issues if appropriate.

How you track and share the results is entirely up to you. You may choose to share the graph in a weekly meeting or post the outcome into your team channel on Slack. If you would like help getting started - feel free to get in touch.

Final thoughts

Measuring psychological safety is as much about wellbeing as it is about capturing a leading indicator for performance. Every member of a team is integral to its success, so being able to take a quick and easy temperature check is a useful tool for managing a team’s wellbeing and motivation.

Remember, psychological safety isn’t built by playing it safe. It’s important to remember that by “safe” we don’t mean everything has to be or is rosy all the time. In fact, those meetings that sometimes feel sticky in isolation can actually be a really good sign of team psychological safety when viewed in a wider context — showing that the team is open to challenge and being challenged. (Just as long as at least one person in the room helps the team move on!) While our team’s psychological safety score has steadily increased over time, there have been some ups and downs on this project, as there are on any project.

The most important thing is increasing everyone’s awareness of the importance of feeling safe to communicate with each other openly about what isn’t working and where they need help and support.

This post is an edited version of the original version which was co-authored by Jamie Irving and published on Medium.

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