Chapter 27. Psychological Safety in SRE

This work was previously published in Intercom and in ;login: magazine before being reworked specifically for an SRE audience.

The Primary Indicator of a Successful Team

When I worked for Google as an SRE, I was lucky enough to travel around the world with a group called “Team Development.” Our mission was to design and deliver team-building courses to teams who wanted to work better together. Our work was based on research later published as Project Aristotle. It found that the primary indicator of a successful team wasn’t tenure, seniority, or salary levels, but psychological safety.

Think of a team you work with closely. How strongly do you agree with these five statements?

  1. If I take a chance and screw up, it will be held against me.

  2. Our team has a strong sense of culture, and it’s difficult for new people to join.

  3. My team is slow to offer help to people who are struggling.

  4. Using my unique skills and talents comes second to the objectives of the team.

  5. It’s uncomfortable to have open honest conversations about our team’s sensitive issues.

Teams that score high on questions like these can be deemed to be “unsafe.” Unsafe to innovate, unsafe to resolve conflict, unsafe to admit they need help. Unsafe teams can deliver for short periods of time, provided they can focus on goals and ignore interpersonal problems. Eventually, unsafe teams will underperform or shatter because they resist ...

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