Many studies, including Google’s Project Aristotle, have found that a team’s performance is not a function of the intelligence or individual strengths of its members, but the way that a team interacts.
In fact, teams comprising average members and seemingly mismatched skill-sets can create super star level outputs, often outperforming groups who appear superior on paper. Good teamwork, as it is said, allows a group to be greater than the sum of its parts. But we can be more specific than that.
The secret ingredient, it was found, can be defined more specifically as Psychological safety. That is, an atmosphere where all members of the group feel safe to share ideas, thoughts, feelings and failures with one another absent the fear of dismissal, ridicule or punishment.
Such teams were faster to overcome challenges together and creatively solved difficult problems without getting bogged down in battles of ego.
Cultural norms, or traditions observed in teams with a strong culture of psychological safety included:
- All members had an equal voice. The strongest teams spent equal time speaking at meetings, even when agenda items favoured a subset of participants.
- Team members showed empathy and a social sensitivity toward other members
- Short comings and failures were raised and discussed with respect, and without vilification of the individual responsible.
- Individuals made an effort to get to know their team mates on a personal level, often spending time together socially.
A leader’s role then, is to help facilitate and support these behaviours, even when it appears to hamper productivity in the short term. There will always be excuses and obstacles that draw us away from this path, but it is important to remember that it takes a lot of effort to affect positive changes in a culture, and very little effort to destroy them.