Google has published a list of the five traits that its most successful teams have in common and the first of those traits “psychological safety” might be the most important.
That term originated with Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmonson, who gave a TEDx talk on the topic last year.
Psychological safety by definition is “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”
During her graduate studies, Edmonson assumed she’d find that the top medical teams made the fewest medication errors at the hospital where she was studying. To her surprise, she found exactly the opposite: Better performing teams seemed to be making more errors than worse performing ones.
Here’s what she rationalized as the reason behind those results: It wasn’t that the best teams were making the most errors, but that the best teams were admitting to errors and discussing them more often than other groups did.
Better performing teams were exhibiting a psychological safety trait, which facilitated a “climate of openness.”
Here is how you create psychological safety in your organization:
Frame work as learning problems and not as execution problems.
“Make explicit that there is enormous uncertainty ahead and enormous interdependence,” Edmondson says.
“We’ve never been here before; we can’t know what will happen; we’ve got to have everybody’s brains and voices in the game,” she adds.
Acknowledge your own fallibility when talking to co-workers.
When talking to peers use phrases such as, “I may miss something — I need to hear from you.”
Model curiosity by asking a lot of questions to your fellow employees.
“That actually creates a necessity for voice,” Edmondson says, because team members need to generate answers.
Leaders who accept the fallibility of their employees and of their own actions create less anxiety in the workplace, which leads to better performance.