The Mark Of The Great Team — Psychological Safety

Have you heard about a company called Google? They are kind of famous for building the internet as we know it. The have built and keep building great products, services, and… teams.

Google took on themselves to answer a very important question for our volatile world — “What are the main ingredients of the best teams?”.

They surveyed many teams and ranked the 5 traits that the best ones exhibit. They analyzed the data and compiled a list with the top traits they found. Can you guess what the top trait was?

Motivation? Accountability? Being challenged? Making something new?

On top of the list, there was something unexpected. It was something that very few have heard of.

The number one trait of great teams according to Google

What Psychological Safety is?

Psychological safety, as complex as it sounds, is actually a very simple concept. It means that the relationship between the team members is such that everyone feels safe to take a risk and be vulnerable in front of each other. Let’s look at an example showing why this is so important.

Imagine a nurse in a hospital. During her routine check-up with one of her patients, she sees that the dose of a medication is unusually high. It’s likely that this is due to the experimental treatment that this patient is undergoing. The doctor is already home and probably asleep.

In a team, without psychological safety, the nurse might feel ashamed or frightened to call the doctor. The dosage is probably correct and the doctor might yell at her. Alternatively, in a team that exhibits psychological safety, the nurse will not experience any shame or fear. Whether or not her dosage call is correct it’s not important. What’s important is that the team members don’t fear to be themselves in front of each other and speak up what’s on their mind.

The Three Requirements of Psychological Safety

In order to create psychological safety for your team, there are three requirements that must be met. Here they are:

1. Being able to bring your full self to work

The first requirement for creating psychological safety for your team is to create a culture where all the team members are not ashamed or afraid to bring their full character to work — their uncommon little hobbies and good habits. Also, it means bringing the bad habits along too. You get the full package. One great side-effect of psychological safety is that the other team members will call out and help each other fighting the bad habits.

2. Being comfortable expressing opinion

The second requirement for creating psychological safety is to create such an environment that everyone recognizes that voicing their opinion and/or concerns in a meeting or in private will not result in any negative consequences. In other words, in a psychologically safe team — the team members feel comfortable saying what is important to them. They do not run away from lengthy discussion or expressing opposite opinions.

3. Active Listening To Each Other

The last, but not least, a requirement for psychological safety is for all the team members to be constantly listening actively to each other. It includes responding and expressing visual cues of communication when in a discussion. In safe teams, teammates listen to understand instead of just listening to respond to a statement.

How to create a psychological safety for your team

The psychological safety is not a luck. It’s a trait that you can work on and achieve. Here are few tips how you can do it for your team:

Create a “No Blame Culture”

This is probably the most important tip I can give you. Communicate with your team that we are all human and we make mistakes. Create a culture where mistakes are a sign that something can be improved, not a call for a head. Make sure you note this to any new team members and reminding this to the old ones.

Frame mistakes as learning opportunities

On the heels of the previous one — make sure your frame any mistake made as an opportunity to learn and be a better team. It’s a good practice to hold team meetings discussing what mistakes were made and how we can learn and improve from them.

Admit your own mistakes

In somewhat similar fashion — make sure that everyone is honest with the team and admits when a mistake is made. Lead by example and always admit your own mistakes. Follow with the previous tips and make sure there is no blame and you learn from your mistakes.

Lead with questions

When discussing subject matters, try communicating more with questions. This way the team members become more engaged and more active on the matter.

Encourage team members to express their opinion

In addition to leading with questions, encourage the team members to express their opinion. Explain to them that each one of them has a different unique view on the matter that brings unique insights to the discussion.

Make decisions by asking team members input

It’s essential that the team members feel that their opinions matter and their voice is heard. Achieve this by syncing up with them on a good portion of the decisions you make, especially the important ones.

Final Words

One thing should be clear by now — if you want your team to be as good as possible you need to make sure they feel safe psychologically. You will end up with much better productivity and very few mistakes made. Try these techniques with your team and see the metrics going up. You will be amazed.

Originally published at on March 6, 2017.