Some simple steps to creating psychological safety

I recently joined a reading circle at work, something set up by our employee resource group for women. There are so many things I love about it... one of which is that I will be able to count on it for so many blog post ideas in the future!

For the November meeting, the reading list included a great New York Times article about what Google's research into what creates their best teams.  Bottom line: it comes down to psychological safety. That's after studying dozens of variables in more than 100 groups in the organization, and correlating them to team performance.

Teams of all kinds in the study, with wildly different group norms, achieved psychological safety. That comes down to the ability to speak your mind, and to know you will be heard. Here is a pithy excerpt:
[...] no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

So what does it take to create that environment? What can leaders do?

There are two key factors in creating psychological safety, according to Google's research: that everyone gets a turn to speak (that they are invited to speak up at team meetings, and invited to share in ways that are comfortable to them if public speaking is not it), and that people (led by the leader showing the example) are willing to share something personal to them, making it more obvious what's going on in their life outside work, what makes them tick. Put another way:
Google’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.
All in all, well worth the read!


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