"Not too long ago, Google set out on a quest to figure out what makes a team successful. They code-named the study Project Aristotle," my Inc.com colleague Justin Bariso reported a few years back. 

What did the project conclude? The most important factor contributing to a team's effectiveness had nothing to do with the smarts, experience, or enthusiasm of its members. Instead, success lay in how co-workers related to each other. The key ingredient was something called "psychological safety."

"Psychological safety refers to an individual's perception of taking a risk, and the response his or her teammates will have to taking that risk," Justin explained. On psychologically safe teams no one will make you feel like a bozo for throwing out a fresh idea, challenging the status quo, or asking for help. 

All of which is fascinating, but after reading this science many people are probably thinking the same thing: does my team have this all-important quality? 

A five-question psychological safety quiz 

Google helpfully offered a checklist of questions to ponder if you're wondering about the psychological safety of your team. They're helpful but perhaps not as crisply diagnostic as some might desire. Now, a new Business Insider post by Caitlin Harper offers a more precise alternative. 

Drawing from the book No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, Harper offers a specific assessment tool leaders can use to judge whether their teams are excelling at psychological safety or have work yet to do. And handily for the time pressed, it's just five questions long: 

  1. If I make a mistake on my team, it is often held against me.

  2. Members of my team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.

  3. It is safe to take a risk on this team.

  4. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.

  5. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

To score your results, first rate your answers on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree).

Then, "add up your scores from 2, 3, and 5 for a subtotal. Subtract your score on question 1 from 8 and your score on question 4 from 8, then add both of those numbers to the subtotal to get your final score. A final score of 0 to 15 means your team is psychologically unsafe, a score of 16 to 30 means your team has some psychological safety but could increase it, and a score of more than 30 means your team has a good amount of psychological safety," Harper explains. 

Prefer to skip the math? Then try the online version of the assessment that will calculate your results for you. 

If the results show you have work to do to ensure your team is friendly to risk taking and new ideas, don't worry. Justin Bariso, himself the author of a book on emotional intelligence, offers a laundry list of simple ideas on how you can go about establishing more psychological safety on your team.

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Published on: Dec 12, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.