Psychological safety: the key to building a successful team

The New York Times Magazine ran its Work Issue last week. The first article from the issue shares learnings from project Aristole, a Google initiative to understand what makes team click. The Google People Ops team had actually published findings from this issue back in November 2015.

They found that psychological safety was the most important among 5 key dynamics experienced by successful teams:

Psychological safety was far and away the most important of the five dynamics we found -- it’s the underpinning of the other four. How could that be? Taking a risk around your team members seems simple. But remember the last time you were working on a project. Did you feel like you could ask what the goal was without the risk of sounding like you’re the only one out of the loop? Or did you opt for continuing without clarifying anything, in order to avoid being perceived as someone who is unaware?

Turns out, we’re all reluctant to engage in behaviors that could negatively influence how others perceive our competence, awareness, and positivity. Although this kind of self-protection is a natural strategy in the workplace, it is detrimental to effective teamwork. On the flip side, the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles. And it affects pretty much every important dimension we look at for employees.

While this doesn't come as a big surprise, it's still a good reminder. As a manager, your behaviour and attitude can be interpreted in (very) unexpected ways, and making sure that you're not sending the wrong message to co-workers and that they can express themselves freely without feeling that they're being judged is extremely important.