Friday, November 20, 2015

Psychological Safety: The Foundation for Innovation Team Success

From re:Work:  "The Five Keys to a Successful Google Team"
At Google, the human capital analytics team has  studied empirically what distinguishes their best innovation teams from the rest.  They found that the foundation for successful teams is psychological safety.  While this may seem "soft" and surprising at first glance, it makes perfect sense.  Have you been on a team where you experienced any of the following:
  • It's not clear what the meeting goals are but someone just keeps talking and no one asks for clarification;
  • You felt it was risky to share your point of view so you opted to sit in silence; 
  • The project leader said something you knew was wrong, but you didn't feel comfortable saying anything;
  • Several people do all the talking while others remain quiet and simply "nod" in presumed agreement.
These are subtle but powerful behavioral indicators that team members don't feel safe to take personal risk.  When team members don't feel safe, they withhold and "comply" rather than engage and "commit."  And the opportunity cost is significant.  At Google, individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave the company, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.

So, how can each of us create a team culture of psychological safety?  Here's one best practice:  get curious, not critical.  As Stephen Covey said so well, "Most people don't listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."  When someone says something you don't understand, or you don't agree with, suspend judgment and ask a question or request more information (e.g., "How would that work?) rather than stating an immediate opinion (e.g., "That won't work.").  When we immediately evaluate, judge or criticize others' contributions, they tend to stop contributing.  As Andy Stanley noted, "Leaders who don't listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say."

What additional practices for creating psychological safety would you recommend?