According to science, psychological safety amongst team members is one of the top predictors of team success.
Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. [source]
While the formal definition above is about emotional safety, I’ve also seen the phrase “psychological safety” used in a more catch-all way, as a proxy for one’s engagement in the workplace.
One of the things I find most contradictory about creation of psychological safety in startups, is that startups, by definition, do not have a foundation of financial reliability. And financial reliability is a pillar of psychological safety.
To correct for the lack of financial reliability, performance is needed.
For there to be performance, there needs to be accountability. For there to be accountability, you need financial reliability.
It’s an infinite cycle of cause & effect. Trying to turn the cycle upwards is the startup grind.
Ideally, your startup team looks like this from inception to exit.
But startups are high stakes + people respond to that stress differently. I’ve seen psychological safety in a team can can be either in an upward spiral or downward spiral.
I’ve seen teams caught in the vicious cycle fail to get anything off the ground at all. The downstream effects of this can be disastrous: Team members quiet-quitting, millions of dollars spent on products that never launch, team leads that you’ve invested 16 months into quitting with no notice, etc.
There can be many triggers of the vicious cycle. From a long bear market, to a leader who quiet-quits on their team, to foundational parts of your needs at work not being met, etc… One of the recurring triggers I’ve seen since joining web3 is team members from more mature organizations joining a startup and having a hard time dealing with the culture, the ambiguity, the pace, the agency, or developing the learning velocity and grit that are all required to succeed in a startup.
In that scenario, the downward spiral of performance accelerates reflexively.
This is the struggle.
Once the downward spiral starts, it can take years & millions $$ to unwind. Up to & including turning the whole team.
Startup teams are doubly tricky because low psych safety can cause low financial safety & visa versa. The reverse is also true (high psych safety can cause high financial safety & visa versa).
TLDR - Teams with low psychological safety can demolish your startup (or DAOs) ambitions.