Psychological safety was highlighted by Google as the most important driver of team performance when it published the findings of Project Aristotle[i] into what makes teams perform. Most now agree that psychological safety is the most important factor contributing to a team’s effectiveness, but what makes a team psychologically safe?
So here is an interesting exercise, how psychologically safe is your team?
To measure your team’s level of psychological safety, ask yourself, and your team, how strongly they agreed or disagreed with these statements:
How did you get on? If you and your teammates strongly disagree with the first three and strongly agree with the last four statements your team has a high level of psychological safety. Well done, you have one of the foundations for performance.
But if you don’t, do you know how to increase psychological safety?
Do you understand how trust evolves dynamically in a group?
Google said “In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.”
Being nice won’t create psychological safety
Many who write about leadership suggest that psychological safety and trust can be achieved through specific leadership behaviours. For instance, Justin Bariso[iii] says to develop trust and psychological safety leaders need to show empathy, be authentic, set the example, be helpful, disagree and commit, be humble, be transparent and offer sincere praise. Unfortunately, as most of us know from experience, being the nice guy does not always result in trust or psychological safety and whats more, people often trust those who have none of these qualities, sometimes they even elect them to high office! If a leadership theory fails to predict the success of leaders it’s not much of a theory.
Research into psychological safety shows we trust people more when we categorise ourselves as belonging to the same social group, particularly if it is one we care deeply about. For instance, in one experiment people asked to put their hand in a bucket of iced water objectively experienced less pain (measured by a galvanic skin sweat meter) when they were told it would not hurt by someone they saw as a member of their group. Another experiment showed we are more likely to trust that financial rewards had been fairly allocated if we believe that person to be in the same group as us and that they know we are in the group too. We trust them more and assume they will trust us.
Psychological safety and trust are the results of collectively shared beliefs and emotional connections. To learn how to develop psychological safety in your team contact me by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on +44 (0)1903 814 259.