A team of researchers from Google’s HR conducted a 2-year study to answer the question: What makes a Google team effective? After 200+ interviews, and looking at 250+ attributes of 180+ active Google teams, they have identified 5 key ingredients. Before we dive into the research findings, let’s align on some key definitions & distinctions.

Team

Work groups are characterized by the least amount of interdependence. They are based on organizational or managerial hierarchy. Work groups may meet periodically to hear and share information.

Teams are highly interdependent – they plan work, solve problems, make decisions, and review progress in service of a specific project. Team members need one another to get work done.

https://rework.withgoogle.com/guides/understanding-team-effectiveness/steps/define-team/

Effectiveness

There wasn’t a single determining factor (such as how many lines of codes written) that could determine a team’s effectiveness. Therefore, the researchers came up with 4 different ways of qualitative & quantitative methods to evaluate team effectiveness:

1. Executive evaluation of the team
2. Team leader evaluation of the team
3. Team member evaluation of the team
4. Sales performance against quarterly quota

https://rework.withgoogle.com/guides/understanding-team-effectiveness/steps/define-effectiveness/

The 5 Key Dynamics of a Successful Team at Google

5 Keys to Google Teams
https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/

Psychological Safety was “far and away the most important of the five dynamics”. In other words, if a team does not have ‘psychological safety’ it is very likely to fail. So, what exactly is psychological safety? Here’s a definition by Organisational Psychologist, Amy Edmondson:

A shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.

Amy Edmondson

In simpler terms:

  • Do you feel afraid of being judged, embarrassed, ridiculed or laughed at when you speak up? Or do you feel ‘It’s OK’ and ‘It’s safe’ to speak up?
  • Can the team openly talk about ‘sensitive issues’ or entertain a ‘silly question?
  • Is it OK to be different and out of the norm? Is it OK to challenge the status quo?
  • Are you comfortable admitting your mistakes and faults? Do you fear being punished if you did?

How to Foster Psychological Safety?

In her TEDx talk, Amy Edmondson recommends 3 ideas:

1. Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
2. Acknowledge your own fallibility.
3. Model curiosity and ask lots of questions.

Watch the 11-minutes TEDx talk here:

I’d like to offer 3 more tips to foster psychological safety when it matters most – every day communication:

1. Decide to be 100% present

In communicating with people, it has become almost like a norm to be texting, scrolling through Instagram, doing work or even playing games. Not to mention the super-distracting ‘ding’ or phone lighting up with every WhatsApp message coming in. What if in that exact instance your staff wanted to tell you he made a million-dollar mistake or your daughter was about to share with you how she scored full marks in her spelling bee contest?

Surely, it’s not a good feeling. Worse, you may even give a sarcastic reply or jump with anger! Even more importantly, it sets the tone or the norm of communicating with you in the future – that they are not important and it is definitely not safe to be telling you vulnerable stuff.

2. Encourage > Judge

Another common mistake is when someone comes up to us with a problem and we try to fix it for them or worse, we try to ‘fix them’. We tend to do this because it’s faster in solving the problem and because we think we know the answers. The downside of this approach is that friend, subordinate or child fails to learn how to think for themselves in the future and also learns to depend on you for all the solutions.

One way to overcome this is to encourage them to think of their own solution. Ask them questions and guide them instead of giving them the answers. And avoid judging, criticising or putting down their ideas when they finally got the courage to speak up – even if you consider the ideas ‘subpar’ or ‘less effective’ than your own. Stop trying to be in control of everything.

3. Reassure

If your boss have always been a ‘It’s my way or the highway’ kinda person and they suddenly become a ‘What do you think we should do in this situation’ – what would you think? They probably went for a training and is trying out a new technique on me. It’s just a gimmick, they’ll probably go back to their previous self after a week or so.

And you’re probably right. Habits are hard to change! But if you’re serious, you need to reinforce the new norm over and over again and reassure people that this is who you are now. And it’s not just a new technique to get something out of others.

I hope this article has been helpful and if you’ve tried any of the tips mentioned here, let me know how it goes in the comments below!

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