A couple of years ago, Google’s Project Aristotle started investigating why some teams work better than others. Its analysis shows that the combination of individuals making up the group is unimportant. Instead, a team’s “group norms” – its “traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules” – are essential to how well the group performs.
Teams are successful if their group norms lead to equal speaking time for all individuals within the group and an awareness of others’ emotional states.
These factors produce a situation in which members of the group feel comfortable, or “safe,” and therefore more willing to contribute. Google’s data show that what Harvard business professor Amy Edmondson called “psychological safety” within the group leads to an increase in the group’s collective IQ and therefore its effectiveness and productivity.
What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect TeamThe New York Times Magazine
This is not about simply being nice to each other or making sure everyone can stay in their comfort zones. Instead, you should combine ambitious performance standards with high psychological safety. This way, you can make sure your employees are able to constantly develop.
How Do I Establish Psychological Safety?
1. Beat Fear
It’s not enough to hire talented people. You also need to enable them to use their talents. Unfortunately, an unofficial culture of silence prevails in many companies: Employees not only hold back bad news, but also innovative, groundbreaking ideas. Why? Because they’re afraid. And fear as a “motivator” has never worked in the long run. Here is how to foster courage:
2. Build Trust
When people in your company are no longer afraid of critical questions, their supervisor or change, an important step has been taken. But the next is: building trust. If you stop at “fear no more,” you are withholding enormous opportunities for yourself and your colleagues. But how do you build this trust without making false promises or denying yourself? Here are our best books on the subject:
Trust FactorHarperCollins Leadership Read Summary
The Catalyst EffectEmerald Publishing Limited Read Summary
Saving FaceBerrett-Koehler Publishers Read Summary
Build ItWiley Read Summary
Building Trust While Cutting CostsStrategy+business Read Summary
3. Invite to Participate
Now it’s just a matter of making something out of the newly created conditions: Invite people to work on the big picture, to get involved. Take an active role when it comes to the nitty-gritty, ask people to report errors in the system, anonymously if necessary. Encourage them to discuss things and reward them when appropriate.