In thousands of organizations around the world much of the work experienced by employees is performed collaboratively in teams. As most of us know, this is also where clashing personalities, interpersonal issues, and unclear communication by managers can stifle productivity and cause conflict.
In an effort to discover the secrets of collaborative teams, Google's own researchers set out to answer one overarching question: What makes a team effective at Google?
The study, code named Project Aristotle, arrived at some interesting conclusions. Researchers discovered that what really mattered had less to do with the people on the team, and more to do with how team members worked together.
No. 1 need for teams: Psychological safety
On top of the list was the need for teams to experience "psychological safety" -- a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking, that "members are not seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive, and that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea," wrote the researchers.
In fact, as the study report states, teams experiencing higher psychological safety were "less likely to leave Google, 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."
Once Google studied the results and understood the dynamics of their own teams, they put together a discussion guide to empower their own teams and help managers model psychological safety on their teams.
As I read the tips and strategies suggested, I couldn't help but notice two running themes for fostering higher psychological safety among teams: verbal communication and nonverbal communication.
Below, I'm highlighting key strategies I feel will help your own teams run more cohesively and efficiently, according to Google's research.
10 ways to show psychological safety through verbal communication
- Respond verbally to show engagement ("That makes sense. Tell us more").
- Recap what's been said to confirm mutual understanding/alignment (e.g., "What I heard you say is ..."); then acknowledge areas of agreement and disagreement, and be open to questions within the group.
- Validate comments verbally ("I understand" or "I see what you're saying").
- Avoid placing blame ("Why did you do this?") and focus on solutions ("How can we work toward making sure this goes more smoothly next time?" or "What can we do together to make a game plan for next time?").
- Express gratitude for contributions from the team.
- Step in if team members talk negatively about another team member.
- Share information about your personal work style and preferences, and encourage teammates to do the same.
- Ask questions with the intention of learning from your teammates.
- Offer input, be interactive, and show you're listening.
- Build rapport (e.g., talk with your teammates about their lives outside of work).
7 ways to show psychological safety through nonverbal communication
- Be present and focus on the conversation (e.g., close your laptop during meetings).
- Be aware of your body language; make sure to lean toward or face the person speaking.
- Make eye contact to show connection and active listening.
- Think about your facial expressions -- are they unintentionally negative (a scowl or grimace)?
- Nod your head to demonstrate understanding during conversations/meetings.
- Have an open body posture (e.g., face all team members; don't turn your back to part of the group).
- Show confidence and conviction without appearing inflexible.