How Psychological Safety Creates the Best Teams

How Psychological Safety Creates the Best Teams. When it comes to devising solutions to challenging problems, a room full of bright minds working towards a common goal is almost always more effective than working alone. This endeavor, referred to as Project Aristotle, involved years of extensive observations of how employees at Google collaborate in group settings, according to The New York Times. Overall, there was one central trend which appeared in almost every successful group: feelings of psychological safety. Psychological safety, according to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, is the "shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking," and "a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up." When students are comfortable enough to share their ideas freely and don't feel afraid of being rejected, they are able to learn better and take interpersonal risks. This not only stifles an individual's creative potential, it also limits the potential for innovation in collaborative group settings. With participation from more team members comes more ideas -- and quite possibly a better product. While change does not always have to come from the top, the behavior that managers, directors and executives model directly impacts and influences the actions of those below them. This is not to say everyone must work equally on all projects, but rather that teams should consider themselves multidisciplinary so employees of varying titles feel comfortable contributing.

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When it comes to devising solutions to challenging problems, a room full of bright minds working towards a common goal is almost always more effective than working alone.

Under the belief that the composition of a group influences the quality of its work, Google has spent years hunting for the key to what makes teams truly great. The tech giant is known for tapping its prodigious brainpower to solve complex problems with creative solutions.

Whether it’s revolutionizing search, email, or exploring the possibilities of driverless cars, Google provides a welcome example of a company focused on maximizing the potential of collaboration.

Project Aristotle

Over the past five years, Google has been engaged in an extensive undertaking to engineer the most productive groups possible. This endeavor, referred to as Project Aristotle, involved years of extensive observations of how employees at Google collaborate in group settings, according to The New York Times.

Project Aristotle’s findings suggest that many of the factors we’d expect to influence the outcome of a project actually didn’t actually have a significant impact on whether or not the group was successful.

Having a shared versus designated leadership structure, including employees from diverse employment backgrounds, and whether or not group members socialized outside of work did not necessarily determine a group’s chances of success.

Overall, there was one central trend which appeared in almost every successful group: feelings of psychological safety.

Psychological safety, according to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, is the “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking,” and “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”

In the majority of successful groups Google studied, participants identified feeling comfortable sharing ideas and asking questions. These feelings of psychological safety were not unique to any type of group or leadership dynamic. As Charles Duhigg wrote in the New York Times, the most productive teams listened to — and were respectful of — the ideas, feelings, beliefs and suggestions of their peers.

Early Education as a Model

The corporate model of psychological safety is not all that different than the one you had in grade school. When students are comfortable enough to share their ideas freely and don’t feel afraid of being rejected, they…

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