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The essential ingredient for high-performing teams
Do you actively cultivate and nurture psychological safety in your team? If not, it’s not too late to start.
Vulnerability builds trust. Trust is essential for any team to operate effectively. To be vulnerable, you need to feel safe. To feel safe, you need psychological safety in your team and company.
Google’s famous 2-year study on team performance puts psychological safety at the top of their list.
No trust, no team!
Psychological safety is important at all levels in the organization and affects people in all positions and professions. Whether you are a leader or an individual contributor, and if your team does not promote and value psychological safety, you won’t feel safe to debate or dissent - even if you know things are going awry.
I have been part of teams where I felt unsafe, but I have also been fortunate to be part of several great teams and work with amazing team leaders, mentors, and managers. I have always reflected and tried to learn from how I performed and behaved in different teams. I keep coming back to psychological safety as the main ingredient.
As an engineer, I greatly valued it when working in teams that had a culture of openness, transparency, and psychological safety. It was an essential ingredient for me, an introvert by nature, to be a successful and productive team member. It gave me an opportunity to express my ideas and opinions, without the fear of judgment or ridicule.
Some of my teams were deliberate about the culture and some were happenstance, just a lucky gathering of people that valued and practiced similarly. Happenstance is uncommon and does not sustain over time, as team members leave and new team members join. Don’t leave it to happenstance. I believe it is important to be thoughtful and deliberate about establishing this culture in your team to create a safe space for everyone.
Consider the downsides of not having psychological safety:
No trust - which is fundamental for any functioning team
Not sharing interesting and fledgling ideas, robbing the team of potential opportunities.
Not raising and debating important topics. You cannot fix what you don’t know and you cannot continuously improve over time.
Not sharing any dissenting opinions, thereby depriving your team’s ability to avoid mistakes and make durable high-quality decisions.
Not taking even moderate risks necessary for your business to make forward progress and leaps.
Other behaviors take hold: passively disagreeing and not committing, apathy, becoming a bystander, rehashing things previously “agreed”, disengagement, sabotage, and the list groweth.
These downsides result in costly outcomes for the team, the mission, and the business. Yet, many times, I often see leaders not really aware of the importance of psychological safety. If they are, they don’t actively say or do anything to establish psychological safety in that team. Instead of embracing the diversity of thought, and creating a safe space for everyone to speak their mind, we are often too quick and enamored to lean towards fast decisions and yield to loudmouths over reason. Psychological safety is essential to create that safe space for everyone in your team so that you have great productivity, innovation, and agility.
So if you want to build a team that is enduring and effective, make sure that you are actively cultivating psychological safety in your team.
If you don’t deliberately and continuously nurture it, psychological safety will evaporate quickly. And that will be a bad thing.
Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams - Amy Edmondson (from the Ted Talk video above) published this paper after studying 51 work teams in a manufacturing company.
Understand Team Effectiveness - has a lot of content related to psychological safety.