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During a presentation I delivered today to members of the PMI Nova Scotia chapter on cultivating psychological safety, one of the attendees asked how would she be able to assess whether the team she was going to join was safe prior to joining.

This is a great question because whenever we move to a new company or even a different division in a sufficiently large company, our access to verifiable information is quite limited. For obvious reasons, the leadership of our new team will usually not want to provide evidence of a poor team culture and unless we have trusted connections within the team itself or have access to someone who has recently left the team, it can be difficult to feel confident that we aren’t jumping into a snake pit.

It is certainly worth asking your potential new manager questions such as:

  • “How much turnover had there been within the team?”
  • “Could I see a copy of the team’s working agreements?
  • “Can you give me an example of a recent time when a team member challenged the status quo?”
  • “How frequently do your team members challenge a decision you’ve made?”

But, I’d also recommend asking the manager to speak one-on-one with a few team members.

If they resist that request, walk away.

But let’s say they are open to it.

Here are a few questions to consider asking when you meet with each team member:

  • “Think back to the last time you made a mistake with the work you do in the team. How was the news of that mistake received by your manager and your fellow team members?”
  • “When was the last time you provided constructive feedback to a fellow team member? How about to your manager?”
  • “Can you describe a situation where you challenged a decision which your manager and the majority of the team were endorsing?”
  • “Can you think of a time when someone from outside of the team was being overly critical of you or another team member and what did the rest of the team or your manager do?”

While it is quite feasible that one or more of the team members you speak with might be under the manager’s thrall, active listening while you ask these probing questions might reveal something different than what the person is saying.

Joining a new organization is fraught with risks but with a little bit of due diligence you can reduce the odds of snake bite!

(If you liked this article, why not read my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on  and on  as well as a number of other online book stores).

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