Unsent loveletter, a photographic art by Nanna Hänninen

Blog 05: Why every leader should cherish psychological safety

A large Google research reveals some surprising facts about succesfull teams. It is not all about getting individuals – but teams – better

In our data-saturated age we are enable to examine our work habits more precisely than ever before. Universities and corporate campuses students and professors are studying everything from team composition to written communication. Making the employees faster, better and more productive being the goal. 

Yet today’s most valuable firms have noticed that measuring and analyzing individual workers, known as “employee performance optimization”, isn’t enough. Work life has switched from problem solving by one party working alone into teams working together. Today, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues. The time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities have increased by 50 percent or more. So a sole expertise and effectivenes is no longer a guarantee for succes. 

Organisations need well functioning and communicating teams

Google started to tackle this question and the findings are now known as the Project Aristotle. In the project Google researched 180 teams trying to spot single feature that would predict succesfull teamwork. Researches studied Google teams to find out if the team members socialize outside the office. Did they have the same hobbies? Were they all shy or outgouing? After all this research it still seemed impossibble to find patterns that a composition of a team made any difference. Not untill the researches started to look for norms.

Psychological safety is critical to making a team work

Group norms that ensures ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking” makes a team thrive. Meaning that everybody in a team speaks about the same amount. Another key factor is a high “average social sensitivity”. Which means team members are skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, expression and other nonverbal cues. Google’s data indicated that psychological safety*, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

How to make psychological safety easy and grow emotional intelligence?

Sharing thoughts and emotions is hard, especially in a work enviroment where it hasn’t always been appropriate nor asked for. So how do we turn our norms around and start suddenly appreciate phychological safety and care about our emotional intelligence?

At Google they found out one example, where a team manager shared to his team a very personal story: he revealed he was ill with cancer. This accumulated into team members to share their personal matters and the team got stronger through this. Obviously this is an extreme example and not a solution to the rest of us, but it gives a hint of what a leader or a manager should look for: a safe space for team members.

*A sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up. Definition by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson

In our busy work life it can be challenge to find the time to build up psychological safety. We at Neemo can provide one solution to creating a safe space and increase psychological safety – within hours. 

We are giving two taster workshops in Helsinki, Finland, May. Join us and see how effective Neemo is!

Taster workshops

Further reading: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html