Do you know what high-performing teams have in common? Psychological safety. That’s right! In fact, GOOGLE recently completed a massive two-year study on team performance, wherein they concluded psychological safety is the one common denominator for high performing teams. As a professional who spends her days working with leaders and teams to reduce conflict, increase engagement, and instill accountability for workplace behaviors and results, that conclusion feels rather validating. But what does it mean to you?

Let’s start with what it means to have a psychologically safe culture at work:

A psychologically safe culture is one wherein leaders at all levels and team members feel empowered to:

  • Take moderate risks
  • Be creative in how they approach their work and problem solve
  • Share ideas, opinions, and observations without fear of harsh judgment, retribution or retaliation
  • Own a mistake and participate in fixing it

Now look at what psychologically safe work cultures have that others don’t:

  • High levels of team engagement (aka: low turnover, few sick-days, minimal detrimental conflict / optimized collaboration, efficiency, accuracy, creativity, and trust)
  • Unified teams motivated by a common mission and big-picture goals
  • Maximized individual learning and development (we’re talking genuine training, mentoring, and leadership pipeline)
  • Better overall operational results

Pretty straight forward? Maybe. For the organizational leaders reading this, are you fostering a culture of psychological safety? For the team members, are you supporting a culture of psychological safety? How do you know?

To anecdotally answer that, consider these questions: How much time do you spend dealing with, participating in, or hearing about conflict, drama, or conspiracy theories? How is “learning and development” benefitting organizational results? How much energy is spent on re-work, trying to “fix” problems, and what’s NOT right? And I love this one… When was the last time someone disagreed with you and it turned into a productive, trust-building discussion? Hmmmm.

If you think your organization has room to improve on the “psychologically safe scale”, try these three tips:

  1. Uphold your organizational values and behavioral expectations. Assuming they support a psychologically safe culture, bring them into every experience. Intentionally live the values and expectations, and demonstrate no one is exempt from fostering them – no one. (That includes you.)
  2. Cultivate a learning mindset. Replace blame with curiosity. Encourage sharing and experimenting with new ideas. Be open to (and welcoming of) differing opinions. Applaud generative dialogues wherein there is no winner or loser, only the sharing of information and observations, with the common goal of achieving the best results. Converse human-to-human rather than role-to-role.
  3. Focus on building and maintaining trust. Trust is a top-down endeavor, which must be actively demonstrated and supported by leadership. Anything else results in an unsafe communication culture.

Regardless of your “rank”, I encourage you to take an objective look at how your team communicates with and about each other, how you problem solve, and even how you acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments. If you aren’t quite getting the results you want, remember (as GOOGLE’s massive study confirmed) psychological safety is the one common denominator for high-performing teams.

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