In 2012, Google launched Project Aristotle, a research endeavor aimed at discovering the secrets of successful teams. The dominant belief going into this ambitious undertaking was that factors such as gender mix, experience level, and cross-functionality would separate the high-functioning teams from the less effective ones. What the research revealed, however, was that the number one predictor of success was psychological safety.
Psychological safety isn’t a new concept — Harvard behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson coined the term in her 1999 article Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. There’s renewed interest in this concept due in part to Project Aristotle but also thanks to influential thinkers like Brené Brown, whose recent book, Dare to Lead, (which I can’t recommend highly enough), reinforces its importance and references Edmondson’s pioneering work.
According to Brown, when you feel psychologically safe, you don’t worry “how others will respond to you when you ask a question, seek feedback, admit a mistake or propose a potentially wacky idea.” You can say what needs to be said. There’s no tip-toeing around an issue.
Unfortunately, in many organizations leaders are expected to refrain from sharing how they feel or what they know to hold the line and sidestep potential conflict within teams. But this approach creates artificial boundaries around free expression. People disengage from the work because they get the sense that their leader doesn’t care enough to be honest about what’s going on.
If you’re a leader and you’d like to improve the psychological safety of your team, here are a few tips to help.
- Be transparent: If change is afoot in your organization, be upfront about it. When your team members admit to feeling uneasy about what’s happening, first validate their feelings and then be honest about your own.
- Recognize that being vulnerable is not a weakness: Telling the truth is a sign of courage and a surefire way to gain the trust and respect of the people around you. Be brave, don’t hold back!
- Create a judgment-free environment: This can be difficult because judgment is such an innate behavior for humans. But it is possible to create a space in which all input is welcome, and sharing unpopular views isn’t a punishable offense.
- Insist on only ONE meeting: When people express concerns or raise issues during a meeting, reinforce that such input is welcome and address the problems right then. Don’t bookmark the conversation for another time or hold private meetings with individual team members. Doing so will only create a massive impediment to establishing trust and breed resentment and dissension among the ranks.
- Take Time Outs: Give everyone on the team, including the leader and team members, the authority to use a timeout. If the discussion gets too hot or you start going around in circles, take a ten-minute break. Get a cup of coffee, take a walk, and return with a clearer head.
Tempted to dismiss all of this as “fluff” or “soft skills?” Think of it this way: when you create a psychologically safe environment, you build trust. When your team trusts you, they’re far more likely to operate with a high level of engagement, creativity, and innovation. And that can only be a good thing for your bottom line.
Ifyou’re interested in building your capabilities to lead high-performing teams,let’s talk. https://expansiveleadershipcoaching.com/leadership-development-programs/