The Secret to Effective Teams

What is the best thing you can do to improve the effectiveness of your team? Let's find out!

“It turns out no one wakes up in the morning and jumps out of bed because they can’t wait to get to work today to look ignorant, incompetent, intrusive or negative.”
— Amy Edmondson

If you could improve one aspect of your team, what would it be?

According to Google’s Project Aristotle and Professor Amy Edmondson, something called “psychological safety” is the killer feature.

With psychological safety, team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. They address anything the moment it occurs without fear of recrimination. They are encouraged to ask questions, openly discuss failures, offer ideas and question the status quo.

In a team that does not provide psychological safety, members go to great lengths to avoid looking...

  • Ignorant → Questions are best left unasked.

  • Incompetent → Weaknesses and mistakes must be hidden.

  • Intrusive → Ideas are not welcome.

  • Negative → The status quo must not be challenged.

This approach of “impression management” is quite effective. Unfortunately, it works for the individual at great expense to the team and its objectives.

Every time an individual with important information stays silent, the team loses out on small moments of enlightenment. In life critical organizations like hospitals, impression management can have deadly consequences.

Edmondson provides three simple suggestions for fostering psychological safety in teams:

  1. Frame the team's work as a learning problem, not one of just tasks to be executed.

  2. Acknowledge the fallibility of each team member. It is okay to discuss mistakes.

  3. Favor questions over commands. Engage the natural human curiosity in each team member.

If your team is under performing, ditch the need for impression management by establishing psychological safety.

According to Google’s research, psychological safety outranks these other important features of effective teams:

  • Getting things done on time with high quality

  • Having clear roles, plans and goals

  • Finding work meaningful on a personal level

  • Thinking work matters and creates change

Each of these features leads to higher performing teams, but psychological safety is the foundation of all effective teams.