In 2012 Google launched project Aristotle with a mission to understand what creates exceptional teams. We all know that more diverse teams perform better and that it is important to have smart people, but is that total of the secret to success? Google discovered that the greatest predictor of team success was actually a characteristic known as psychological safety. As Harvard’s Amy Edmondson wrote in her paper, psychological safety is: “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,” Meaning, even if you are on a team and you say something stupid or screw up, you wont be punished or alienated.
All too often, employees are scared of sharing their ideas or speaking up if something is wrong, or doesn’t make sense. The issue is magnified when it goes against what management is saying. So rather than get in trouble or lose their jobs, employees stay quiet. When the company culture instills a sense of fear in their employees, it may produce a temporary increase in results. After all, Wells Fargo was doing great thanks to managers pressuring employees to open and close millions of fraudulent bank accounts.
Unsurprisingly, in the long term these practices are incredibly destructive, and the company saw huge fines and a terrible hit to their brand and stock when the scandal came to light in late 2016. On the other hand, organizations that have higher levels of psychological safety and comradery, not only perform better in groups, but on any metric of a successful organization especially in the long term, including profitability and stock value.
We all know that we need to have our teams and employees feel safe, but how do we actually accomplish this? The answer lies in the strange process known as a vulnerability