Psychological Safety In Organizational Health: Or How Fear Restricts Teams From Being Great

I've always been a big believer in organizational health and the importance it plays in a teams success. In a recent article by Michael Schneider he discussed a research project conducted by Google of 180 teams within Google and they came up with five key characteristics of enhanced teams. Four of the characteristics seem simple enough, and something we could probably come up with on our own:

  1. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
  2. Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  3. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  4. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we're doing matters?

What was most interesting is the fifth characteristic that was the most important because it was the foundation for the other four, without it everything crumbles. It is the concept of psychological safety, having an environment where all team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.

Unfortunately most of us have been in situations where you were afraid to speak up, afraid others will look at you like you are dumb, or worst of all afraid that you will be publicly yelled at or humiliated. It is easy to see how a team would become restricted in the thoughts and actions they take when they live in fear, yet so often this kind of leadership is allowed to continue and when things still aren't working they tighten down harder and there is even less psychological safety. It becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to break out of. You can break out of it though, depending on the culture it could take time to build the trust back up and make people feel safe again. It is worth the effort though, I've seen it and now we have the science that proves it.

You can read more of the articles here and here, which if you are like me and like science of teams it will quickly take you down a rabbit hole, but like Alice, you might be amazed at the wonders you discover.


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