Project Aristotle, a Google study, aimed at investigating why some teams soar while others stumble. How people treated each other was the main contributor to successful and effective teams. When team members each felt psychologically safe, the environment was conducive for team success, regardless of who was in the team.
Psychological safety is when individual team members feel like they can share and contribute without judgement, embarrassment, or consequence from fellow teammates. This doesn’t mean everyone agrees with each other, rather, it is a respectful, safe space where individuals can collaborate and share without fear of consequence.
An environment of psychological safety enhances:
- Everyone feeling included: feeling like you belong and that you are valued
- Everyone feels safe to learn and grow: meaning you feel safe enough to make mistakes or even take risks – sometimes that risk is just voicing an opinion
- Everyone feels safe to contribute as an equal member, not worrying about how others will evaluate their contribution
- Each individual feels safe enough to challenge the status quo
- You feel safe not knowing the answers, allowing you to problem solve together
- You feel safe enough to have an idea that may not be successful
- Culture of really valuing and listening to each other – creating a space for others ideas and thoughts.
- It is an environment where people feel comfortable enough just being themselves – because who you are is enough.
Psychologically safe teams enhance team success:
- Team members were concerned about the success of the team not themselves.
- Team members were able to have a common goal that united them. It wasn’t one person’s agenda and others were delegated tasks – they all jointly worked toward contributing to what the goal is and how to achieve it.
- There was individual commitment to a group effort.
- There was acknowledgment that no one person is as smart as everyone together.
How does this relate to you?
The world of work is geared around collaboration and teamwork, prioritising psychologically safe environments and teams should be a priority.
Ask yourself whether groups or teams have given you space to:
- To challenge your own perspectives, viewpoints, biases, thought process.
- To take risks, learn something new and sometimes get it wrong.
- To speak up, to contribute, to have an idea, to have a voice.
- To feel safe enough to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers.
- To feel safe enough to feel uncertain, to voice that you’re not sure what to do or that you need help
3 Tips for a psychologically safe environment
Dr Lauren Martin, SACAP’s Deputy Dean of Learning and Teaching adds:
1. We need each other to make a difference in the world
The world, humanity, sustainability and doing good NEEDS collaborative efforts – this is where we see and have witnessed to most amount of change and innovation. Real, sustainable change happens when we can recognise the value and difference we each can contribute. When we realise we don’t know it all ad that we cannot achieve it all alone, teamwork is prioritised.
2. We are interdependent on each other
Every individual idea needs collaboration for success – you need buy-in from others. For example, you may have an awesome idea but unless it serves the community/customers/your company, the idea may not be successful. In business, your ideas will need approval and buy-in from leaders. If you are the leader of the business, your ideas will need approval from society for it to be a success. If you want your ideas to be heard and moved forward, you need to share them and have other collaborate on them and make them better.
3. Teamwork should be sought after
Instead of looking around and saying “it’s you versus me”, challenge yourself to rather look around and recognise that these are your peers and your team. You should rather be saying, “How quickly can I get to know them and their differences? And what else do they have to offer? What can I learn from them?”You should be wanting to work in groups for your own upskilling and development, personally and professionally.
Are you up for the challenge?
- If we know teamwork and collaboration are needed skills in the industry,
- If we know that graduates are lacking these skills,
- If we know that these skills need to be practiced and cultivated,
- we then need to be deliberate in developing these skills.
It means, that individually, you are actively working at creating a psychologically safe environment for your team or group. That, is you practicing teamwork and developing the skills necessary for effective and successful collaboration.
- Creating a psychologically safe environment in groups is not up to one person, it is not only your managers responsibility. We each contribute to this in a team. It is what you afford to each other in a team.
- And so there is an “I” in team – if you are putting your ego aside, if you are willing to learn, if YOU are willing to create a psychologically safe environment, then the team can flourish.
- YOU as an individual play a very important part within a team functioning well or not.
What Google proved, is that you don’t have to be friends, in fact you don’t even have to like each other in order to have the skills to create an environment where you can flourish as a team and work effectively together. Often we get put into groups or assigned projects with people who are strangers to us – Google has shown us that a group of people who actively work at creating a psychologically safe environment for themselves and each other, can collaborate effectively and successfully together.
Psychological Safety Blog Series
Unlocking Team Success with Psychological Safety: It’s not that easy
A primary contributor to success and effective teams is psychological safety. Dr Martin elaborates on how to embed this into company culture.
Read more in the second blog of this series here.
The Danger of Psychologically Unsafe Work Environments: How Toxic Culture is Born
Dr Lauren Martin expands on psychologically unsafe environments breeding fear, mistrust and a toxic workplace culture.
Read more in the third and final blog of this series here.