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Are You Psychologically Safe at Work?

by Lynette Silva

People shunning another personRecognize This! – Successful work teams require a sense of psychological safety, which is key to working human.

Newsflash – no person is an island, especially at work. Okay, maybe that’s not much of a newsflash. In today’s complex work and world cultures, little work gets done by an individual contributor working solely on a project all by herself. We are all part of teams working toward end goals. Even within those teams, I doubt any of us work on the same team for an extended length of time. We may be assigned to formal, hierarchical teams for reporting structures, but the work tends to get done through informal teams that are constantly forming, breaking apart and reforming with new members based on the needs of the latest project.

And yet, so many engagement efforts seem to focus on the individual. How do we make the individual more effective? What can we do to inspire, motivate and encourage the individual?

It’s time to take a much closer look at the dynamics of the individuals within a team and what makes the team work more effectively. Google has done that heavy lifting through their Project Aristotle (described in this New York Times article) – a classic data-crunching study of how their people interact and collaborate to get work done. The findings were threefold:

  1. The individual people in the team don’t really matter in assessing the success of the team’s outcomes.
  2. Successful teams consistently showed two features – members listened to each other (no one person dominated conversation or leadership) and were sensitive to the feelings and needs of the team members.
  3. “Psychological safety” – a sense that it’s okay to take risks within the group – is critical to success.

Psychological safety is critical to team success – and a hallmark of #WorkHuman.
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What does this all boil down to? Human dynamics at work. And what does this mean for readers of this blog? To make our work teams most effective, we need to help the humans on those teams be more psychologically sensitive to their teammates to create the safe space necessary for magic to happen.

And this brings us full circle – helping the team requires us to help the individual. Sue Bingham in SmartBlogs wrote about the five factors individuals can focus on:

  1. Positive assumptions about your teammates
  2. Trust in them and their abilities
  3. Inclusion of everyone and their ideas
  4. Challenge with interesting work
  5. Recognition of desired behaviors to reinforce outcomes

Acknowledging these needs of the individual combined with the needs of the team is what enables us to WorkHuman. We are unique individuals that bring a myriad of “personal” factors into our team experience – and both must be integrated to get the best results. As Google learned:

“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.”

Emphasis on that last sentence is mine. Work can be – should be – more than just labor. And we have a better shot at achieving that when we enjoy our work with others.


Work can be more than just labor – when we enjoy our work with others. #WorkHuman
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Do you feel psychologically safe at work? Do you want to help your teams achieve a more human dynamic? Join us at WorkHuman in Orlando, FL, May 9-11, where you can learn more from Elani Pallas and her session on Disruptive Human-Centric Leadership or from Don Yeager speaking on What We Can Learn from the World’s Best Teams. (Register with code WH16RT300 for $300 off.)

 

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