Make it Easy to Create a Psychologically Safe Team
We all can agree that performance and productivity are critical to teams in the workforce. However, where leaders can struggle is determining what mix of personalities, background, and experience matter to create the ideal team.
Over the last couple of years, we've seen more data to understand that magic combination. And time and time again, you see the data come back with less emphasis on "who" is on a team. Spoiler alert - the best employees put together on a team don’t necessarily equal the best team.
What does matter is the idea of psychological safety. As Google's Project Aristole research summed up a couple of years ago is that great teams are built on "a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.” They described a team built of trust, mutual respect, understanding, and comfort of being themselves.
More recently, Daniel Coyle broke down the matter in his book The Culture Code. From his research, he identified three skills within great teams, including:
Making everyone feel comfortable in working together.
Ensuring no one needs to be perfect.
Working towards a common goal and a clear path to get there.
Easy to do right?
So how do we as leaders create this for our teams? Consider these actions:
Define the norms that create psychological safety for your team. All companies have values, whether intentional or not. It’s important to document the norms and behaviors that create a safe place for others.
Keep your norms alive. Writing down these norms and values is only the first step. Keep them alive by integrating them into everything you do in the workplace, from recruiting talent and onboarding to how you talk about performance and expectations, start your meetings, or recognize others.
Don’t ask employees to wear a “work face.” In the past, it was known that you leave your home life at home. Not today. To feel ‘psychologically safe,’ employees must feel free enough to share the things going on in all aspects of their lives. In order to have the harder conversations with co-workers, employees must have the opportunity to be vulnerable to others without fear of doing so.
Ensure everyone has a chance to talk. Research shows that members on good teams spoke in roughly the same proportion. Those on teams that were faltering had members or small groups who did all the talking. As a leader, you must be able to create an environment within your team where everyone is able to participate.
Create space for everyone to ask for failure. The research on vulnerability has shown that this trait is a sign of strength, not weakness. As a leader, create this vulnerability in yourself so others can follow in your footstep and get comfortable with sharing and trying new ideas.
Hire those that fit the norms and kick out those who don’t. Great teams don’t always include the smartest, fastest, or most experienced members. As painful as it may be to pass up a person with a great resume, if they don’t fit the established norms of the team both they and the team will falter.
Psychological safety is critical to making teams great. And leaders own this responsibility. The ability to listen and to be sensitive to other’s feelings is important. And even after all this research, leaders know it can be a struggle to create this safe place for others. By following these five tips, you’ll be on your way to building a better team.