Improving teamwork through psychological safety

Improving teamwork through psychological safety 22.02.2018 - Which of us is not familiar with this situation - teamwork can be both a blessing and a curse. If the team works well together or communicates correctly, teamwork brings real added value for all participants. But if there is something not quite right about it, the team's productivity can also minimise the motivation of the members.

What is the reason why some teams work together efficiently and without any problems, but others fail very early? Google also investigated this question with the "Aristotle" project. The differences between successful and mediocre or poor teams in Google’s company was investigated. Although the framework conditions were similar, there were significant differences in team performance.

Psychological safety crucial for good teamwork

Google did not define the team composition as the reason for this, because homogeneous teams in relation to the performance level and heterogeneity of the personalities do not necessarily contribute to good teamwork. According to Google's project result, psychological safety was decisive.

Psychological safety refers to how the team as a whole and the individual members react to supposedly unpleasant situations. Is it embarrassing for some team members to express their opinions, to say something wrong or not to be taken seriously? If this is the case, these members prefer to remain silent so as not to disparage their ideas and comments.

Open and fearless communication in a team

If such anxious situations arise, they are very bad for teamwork. As soon as the members feel comfortable and take every idea seriously, discuss it and work out a solution together, they achieve better results as a team - because failure can also make a positive contribution to the final result.

In addition to this open and non-judgmental communication, a personal relationship with colleagues within the team also plays an important role.

Three tips for better teamwork from Google

First, the status quo is to be recorded. This is to assess how efficiently a team works. This also includes the reliability of the members and how their own work is appreciated. For each category, Google developed negative examples and questions that help to capture the status quo. These questionnaires are filled in anonymously so that team members can answer honestly. Even if you don't use the Google questionnaire, you should communicate openly and talk about problems.

The second step is about improving the communication of the team members. This includes facial expressions and gestures as well as actual communication.
Good communication includes avoiding blasphemy and sarcastic remarks, but also pejorative rolling one's eyes or similar. Instead, active listening and a dignified conversation culture contribute to good communication. Personal contacts also help to strengthen psychological safety.

In the third tip, Google recommends planning concrete measures. These measures vary from team to team depending on the psychological safety in the status quo. The measures must be coordinated with the team and the impact of these measures should be considered. For example, a team's lack of self-organisation can make a negative contribution to psychological safety, because these teams are less motivated to develop ideas themselves and are more dependent on decisions of others than those teams that organise themselves.

Once the measures have been clarified, they are recorded in a plan that works like a product backlog and represents the steps to the optimal team.

Once this psychological safety is achieved, a team should perform well. But there is also a downside: If the team members feel too comfortable and too safe, there is a higher probability that the team will drift into unethical behaviour as it has no penalty to fear. However, this is not only related to the team, but also to the corporate culture - often this is only a fine line. If the entire corporate culture is based on trust, communication at all levels is open and there is trust in the supervisor, so that he or she can intervene in the event of bad decisions.

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