A current focus of mine is exploring tools, processes, and insights into what goes into making high performance teams, and how one can engage an existing team and help them build their overall team effectiveness. In researching this area, what has really surprised me is the lack of readily available and insightful research into this critical area. Most of us work in teams and depend on others to contribute to our work products, and yet what I’ve been able to find about the “how” to make it happen is underwhelming, or obvious.
It turns out Google has also been exploring this critical area, and I’ve just come across a couple of (related) articles that speak to their findings. This first article essentially pins the key on achieving “psychological safety” — that is, the ability to query things openly and feel safe in the process: Did you feel like you could ask what the goal was without the risk of sounding like you’re the only one out of the loop? Or did you opt for continuing without clarifying anything, in order to avoid being perceived as someone who is unaware?
This second article is a much longer read, written by Charles Duhigg (author of The Power of Habit, a great insightful book) for the New York Times. Here are a couple of interesting statements from the article:
“What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.”
The take-away from all this: when people believe they are being listened to, can question things without feeling threatened, and feel respected by their team members, collectively they can perform at high levels and do awesome things.
“The paradox, of course, is that Google’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.”