- Psychological safety: This was the single most important dynamic in an effective team. Psychological safety is about risk-taking and being comfortable with vulnerability. People who don’t feel psychologically safe worry that taking risks will mean they’re seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative or disruptive. Psychological safety means feeling confident about admitting mistakes, asking questions, or offering new ideas.
- Dependability: On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time. They don’t avoid their responsibilities and they take them seriously, helping to keep the team on track. As simple as it sounds, this turned out to be vital for effectiveness in teams.
- Structure and Clarity: This means that a team has clear roles, goals and plans. Individuals understand what’s expected of them, what they and their team is aiming for and how they are all going to get there. Google often uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help set and communicate specific, challenging and attainable short- and long-term goals, at an individual and at a group level.
- Meaning: For individuals on a team, finding a sense of purpose in their work or its output is vitally important for team effectiveness. That meaning is personal, so it varies from person to person, but might include financial security, their ability to support their family, their commitment to the success of the team, or their individual self-expression.
- Impact: Do you fundamentally believe that the work you do makes a difference? This subjective judgment marks out the most effective teams and can be based on seeing how one’s work contributes to an organization’s goals and what it has helped to change.
- Psychological safety: what matters most. Of the five dynamics, one stands out ahead of the others. The best teams create a climate of openness where team members admit to their errors and discuss them more often. In other words, they exhibited high levels of psychological safety, a concept originated by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson.
Psychologically safe teams accelerate learning and innovation by acknowledging mistakes and exploring new ideas. And not only are they more adaptable, they can also impact the bottom line. The Google research revealed that sales teams with high ratings for psychological safety actually brought in more revenue, exceeding their sales targets by 17%. Teams with low psychological safety fell short by up to 19%.
So how can leaders create psychological safety in your teams and organizations? Edmondson gives us three recommendations:
- Frame the work as a learning problem as opposed to an execution problem: Be clear that there are areas that still require explanation and that everybody’s input matters. Admit that the future is not certain and you need to have everybody’s brains and voices in the game.
- Acknowledge your own fallibility: Tell team members that you need and respect their input. As a wider attitude, this can be expressed in many ways, but even simple statements can really encourage peers and subordinates to speak up, such as “I may miss something — I need to hear from you.”
- Model curiosity by asking a lot of questions: This creates a need for the team to develop a voice. It gives your team the responsibility to generate answers, which engaging in a discussion and taking ownership of the process.How we interact with each other as a team is more important than the people on that team. But would you recognize whether your team had strong or weak psychological safety? How could you tell? Have a go at the short questionnaire below for an idea of how you measure up. And if you want to know more, reach out to us, we’re good at this.
Quiz: How psychologically safe is your team?
Ask yourself the following questions to identify strengths and weaknesses in the way your team works together.
- Do you struggle to have tough conversations?
- Do you feel judged and that the team members lack respect for one another?
- Do you fear asking for or delivering constructive feedback?
- Are you or others hesitant about expressing divergent ideas or asking “silly” questions?
- Do you feel that you can’t make mistakes or take risks?
- Are team discussions dominated by a few strong voices that marginalize other people’s perspectives?
- Are the members of your team competitive with one another?
Where to begin?
Recommended first step:
The True Colors Intro is a dive into what makes us who we are, how we prefer to relate, interact, communicate, and recharge. By investing in helping people understand self, we also help them understand other and that is at the root of healthy dynamics. It is a fun and fascinating exploration that ultimately fosters good communication within the work environ, and at home.