Every company wants high productivity. Some companies go to great lengths to figure out to hire people that work well together and put all sorts of perks in place to make people happier at work. Awesome.

But, it turns out there is one thing that Google found influenced productivity more than anything else: Psychological Safety. Charles Duhigg, the author of Smarter, Faster, Better and Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of People Operations at Google, were on Freakonomics last week and explained:

DUHIGG: What matters isn't who is on the team. What matters is how the team interacts.

BOCK: So, we were surprised that these things that everybody kind of says matter ended up not mattering. For example, the most important attribute of a high-performing team is not who leads it or who's on it or how many people or where it is. It's psychological safety.

DUHIGG: Which means that everyone at the table feels like they have the opportunity to speak up, and they all feel like each other is actually listening to them, as demonstrated by the fact that their teammates are sensitive to nonverbal cues.

BOCK: We ask if the team members feel that they can fail openly or do they feel that they are going to be shunned by failing? We ask, do they feel as if other team members are supporting or undermining them?

This sounds pretty darn easy, but in practice, it's not. It takes a good manager to make sure people feel psychologically safe. Bullies have to be taken care of, which is not easy: even bosses can be the victim of a direct report bully.

We know how critical bullying can be--rude statements can destroy lives. Lack of psychological safety doesn't have to be rooted in rudeness or bullying. It can be rooted in many things. For instance:

  • Strict hierarchy rules. When it's clear that the director speaks and everyone else just nods, people won't speak up.
  • Imposter syndrome. People don't speak up if they don't feel like they have something valuable to share.
  • Rapid negative feedback. Often times in meetings, senior people shoot down ideas quickly. Senior people can often tell that an idea is stupid, but sometimes they are wrong. Let things sit before rejecting.
  • Negative body language. You can say all the right things, but if you're rolling your eyes while you're saying it, people aren't going to feel comfortable speaking up.

If your team has some of these negative things going on (or has outright bullying going on), it's your job as the manager to get things put together so that your team can feel safe speaking up.

You might be surprised to find out what great ideas can come out when people feel safe to speak up. This doesn't mean you can't disagree with people, or even provide negative feedback. You just have to do it in a way that keeps the group together instead of tearing it apart.

Published on: May 5, 2016