The (he)Art of Successful Teamwork: Psychological Safety
“Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi
What makes a perfect working team?
That is the ultimate question many employers are asking. Google’s internal research study, Project Aristotle, focused on understanding the group dynamics on their teams and what elements are essential for team performance.
For the project, the team gathered Google’s best statisticians, organizational psychologists, sociologists, engineers and researchers and examined hundreds of teams across departments in Google to find out why some were wildly successful and others underperformed. They examined common assumptions around team dynamics like whether introverts work best together, if shared hobbies are important, or if a combination of particular demographics make teams stronger. After interviews with hundreds of employees and searching for an all-telling data-driven formula, they discovered something surprising: It’s not the type of people, common interests or communication styles that really matter. Psychological safety is what’s essential to a team’s productivity and success.
So, what is psychological safety?
As the great American scientist Linus Pauling once said, “The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.” Psychological safety is feeling comfortable expressing opposing opinions and taking risks, while knowing your colleagues support you. This type of environment allows people to experiment with ideas without fear of ridicule or recrimination. It’s a supportive environment where people feel comfortable, even when they’re being vulnerable.
How can organizations create this type of supportive environment?
Project Aristotle and the Harvard Business Review shared that there’s no magic to instill psychological safety in a team instantly. Similar to any personal relationship, sharing real-life experiences and feelings as well as opening up and expressing appreciation between coworkers over time builds trust. Thus honest interactions-increase vulnerability, sincerity, heartfelt connection-help create stronger bonds in professional teams, too. After all, if we trust the people around us, we aren’t afraid to take risks in front of them.
Here are 3 ways to create psychological safety on your team:
Allow dissent and differing opinions.Diversity of opinions is essential to creativity and solution-finding. If teammates are subtly discouraged from expressing their opinions because of backlash or dismissal of certain viewpoints, it’s unlikely they will continue to share important ideas.
Encourage and model vulnerability.We’re all human, and sharing a little bit of that humanness through vulnerability allows your teammates to feel like they can show up just as they are to work. When they don’t feel like they have to mask their feelings, that builds trust.
Be (actually) open to feedback.While you might say you’re open to feedback, does your team ever provide it? If not, it might be good to check in and see if you can create a forum for listening to your team with a willingness to make any necessary adjustments to improve connection and performance.
The global COVID-19 pandemic brought a major shift in work expectations where some employees (including ours at SIY Global) work on hybrid or fully remote teams. The question now is, how can you still build trust without the casual in-person human interaction that supports colleague bonds?
In our article, Building Trust on a Remote Team, we share tips including taking the time to check in virtually and to encourage honesty and vulnerability. These strategies will assist in fostering a space with a strong sense of psychological safety.
HBR states “[p]sychological safety is needed today to enable productive conversations in new, challenging (and potentially fraught) territory.” This mindset starts at the top and is necessary to keep in mind in order to create workplaces where employees can feel supported, cohesive and in turn productive and successful ” to “this mindset is essential to creating workplaces where employees feel supported, cohesive and in turn productive and successful.
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