How can I … Psychological Safety
Here are a few of the questions I have received from clients in the last twelve months. I’d like to share my answers to them in this blog.
How can I …
… boost the creativity and innovative thinking in my team?
… increase the number of engaged employees in my organization?
… decrease the number of disengaged employees?
… decrease the number of sick days in my team?
… lower the fluctuation in my team? A lot of people are leaving.
I won’t share the specific answer to each of these questions in this blog as many of the questions require further skills training, but I do have the foundation which I share with all my clients, and I’d like to share this with you. This foundation is the starting point and is critical before any skills training should even be considered.
It goes back to a study that Google started in 2015 when it went in search of the success of high performing teams. Google looked at 180 teams internally and analyzed over 250 attributes of teams and team members: the numbers of Master Degrees, PhDs, ratios of introverts vs. extraverts, etc. They looked at everything and after about two years, after still not having a strong correlation of data for their high performing teams, Google solicited the expertise of Harvard University. They wanted to know why certain teams always outperformed others, no matter what the market conditions were: these teams always hit their targets, they were creative and innovative, they had a lower number of sick days and had engaged team members. What was revealed in 2019 was fascinating and has had a massive impact on the way teams work together. Google came up with five factors that high performing teams all have in common, and I believe these findings are something that all teams can profit from.
I’ll share # 2 -5 briefly and then focus on #1, because it answers the creativity, the engaged vs disengaged and sick day questions I listed above.
Now, let’s have a look at Google’s findings:
#5 = Impact
Does what we do as a team have a positive impact on the company, the company’s results, the world around us? Impact goes back to the question of “Purpose” and the ripple effect on the greater good.
#4 = Meaning
Do the jobs of the individual team members have real meaning to them? Does what they do individually make a difference and contribute to the overall team’s results?
#3 = Structure and Clarity
Do you have team rules or are they just understood, unspoken agreements? Do you hold people accountable for their actions? Does everyone know what their roles and job descriptions are? And do they know what their colleagues are responsible for?
#2 = Dependability
This means delivering on time and not having to chase down colleagues and follow up with a call or extra email. Dependability also means delivering high quality or at the standards set by the team.
# 1 = Psychological Safety
This is defined as a feeling in a team where each member knows it’s ok to take a risk. It’s ok, because they will not be humiliated. They will not be laughed at. No one is going to roll their eyes. No one is going to interrupt them. They feel safe, and they are not going to get into trouble later by their boss, because they expressed a different opinion. This is a climate in a team where mistakes are admitted, and people learn from each other.
During their interviews with the 180 teams, Google asked these questions, and employees responded with agree or disagree.
Think about you own team right now. Do you agree or disagree with these statements?
- If I make a mistake on this team, it is often held against me.
- Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues. (This is all about vulnerability.)
- People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
- It is safe to take a risk on this team. (I won’t be laughed at or humiliated, and mistakes won’t be held against me.)
- It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help. (I’m afraid they will laugh at me or roll their eyes.)
- No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
- Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized. (That’s strength spotting and being able to use your strengths on the job.)
How can you ensure psychological safety in your team?
I would first start by showing this study to my team and asking them if this is something they would like to achieve. This is nothing the team lead can achieve alone – it needs to be a team effort.
So where do you start? Here are a few tips:
- Show engagement. Eye contact, body language, focus during meetings. Google called this “ostentatious listening”, which is being so focused that you’re not looking at your emails or reading things, you’re not chatting online or answering the phone. You are mentally there with the person who is talking. You are truly listening to what they have to say.
- Show understanding. You recap and rephrase what was said. No finger pointing and no blaming. Be very conscious of facial expressions and body language. You lean in to a conversation and show empathy.
- Be inclusive in personal settings. Share information about yourself. You are available. There is no negative talk about other team members, and when you hear it, you put a stop to it. People are held accountable for their actions. No negative talk about others, no negative gossiping. This needs to be a commit that your team agrees to make.
- Be inclusive in decision making. Ask for input, ask for opinions. Encourage people to challenge and push back and show you why an idea won’t work. It also means not interrupting. And when you see someone being interrupted, you stop the conversation and don’t allow that to happen. Psychological safety isn’t passive. It’s not just doing your part. It also means putting a stop to other behavior that gets in the way of it.
- Be confident about your opinion BUT don’t be inflexible. Be open to ideas and don’t show bias. Manage team discussions. Have an equal amount of speaking time per person. Don’t allow sidebar conversations. If someone is talking to someone else in a meeting, they can’t be listening to someone else who is talking. Hold team members accountable for this behavior.
If you want to boost creativity and innovative thinking …. you need an environment where people feel psychologically safe to make mistakes.
If you want to boost employee engagement … your employees need to feel valued and truly listened to. They need to know that their contributions make a difference.
If you want to lower the fluctuation …. you may start by asking yourself, “Why would I leave a team I feel safe in and one that I thrive in – an environment that I love to come to work to?” As the saying goes, “People don’t quit a company. They leave their boss.”
If you want to lower the number of sick days …. you need an environment that isn’t poisoned. Negative talk and constant fear of making a mistake puts people under permanent stress. And this stress will make team members sick, mentally as well as physically: headaches, backaches, stomach pains, depression and burn-out…
Psychological safety starts with you as a team member, you as a leader walking your talk and demonstrating excellence. It means putting a stop to poor behavior and calling people on their actions. It means making people accountable for their actions. And this is a team effort.
Google called its study “Project Aristotle” which is attributed to his quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts“.
Each and every individual is responsible for the overall success of a team.
Each and every individual has a joint responsibility is ensuring the psychological safety of a team.
Each and every individual should be held accountable for their actions.
If you would like support in rolling this out in your team or organization, please get in contact with me: Whitney@WhitneyBreer.com