85. The Fairy Dust of Effective Teams – Psychological Safety

Teamwork doesn’t have to suck! In fact, magic can happen when team members tend to each others’ basic needs–most notably, their psychological safety. Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. Seems like a direct line to ease, meaning and joy!


On this episode of Crina and Kirsten Get to Work, our hosts tackle teams at work.  For those of us who have been on good teams, we know the benefits:

  • collaborative problem solving leads to better outcome
  • we are willing to take more risks when we are supported by a good team and that leads to innovation  
  • teams encourage personal growth, increase job satisfaction, and reduce stress.

The question is how to create great teams.  Google, with all of its data and metrics and algorithms, conducted a five year study of its teams (called Project Aristotle) to try to distinguish what makes a good team versus a dysfunctional team.  It turns out that psychological safety is at the root of what makes an effective team.  Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.  The Google Study tells us about the core attribute of effective teams, but how do we create the special sauce of psychological safety.

According to Dr. Timothy Clark, author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation, employees have to progress through 4 stages before they feel free to make valuable contributions and challenge the status quo.  The first stage is inclusion safety and is that basic need to connect and belong – which is really about bringing your unique self and being accepted to full participation in the group.  The second is learner safety, which satisfies our need as humans to learn and grow – where we can ask questions, make mistakes, where failure is an opportunity and not a punishment.  The third stage is contributor safety and is the place we satisfy our need to make a difference – it means we have a place to use our skills and talents.  The fourth stage is challenger safety, which meets our need to make things better and to speak up to challenge the status quo – and requires the ability to effectively deal with conflict. 

It turns out not only Google has concluded this concept of psychological safety is the hallmark of the most high performing teams, but so has Harvard University in a study of teams during Covid.  What were these folks on effective teams doing?  They were communicating more, particularly by phone, making an average 10 .1 calls per day as opposed to 6.1 for those teams who were less successful.  They were also running more efficient meetings – agendas, meeting preparation – which set the stage for more fruitful interactions.  These folks are also interacting with each other outside of work – the most effective teams were not always working together, but also playing together.  The Covid success teams were also recognizing each other with more frequency – for good work, for meeting challenges and the like – not just management, but among each other.  What we learned from the Project Aristotle Study was true here as well – the people on the successful teams felt they could be authentic at work.

This is a podcast about women and work and ease meaning and joy, so here is the juicy nugget about women and teams . . .  Scientists at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College suggest the most efficient groups — the ones who are the best at collaborating, analyzing problems, and solving them the fastest and most effectively — had three things in common, one of which was simply that they had more women.  Yesss! If we want more successful teams – just add more women – and of course psychological safety.

Good Reads:

The Secret To Efficient Teamwork Is Ridiculously Simple

The benefits of teamwork (as proven by science) – Work Life by Atlassian

What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times

The Secrets of Great Teamwork
The benefits of teamwork (as proven by science) – Work Life by Atlassian

5 Things High-Performing Teams Do Differently

What Is Psychological Safety at Work? | CCL