Say these phrases to build the perfect team

In 2012, Google set out on what would become a 3-year project, code-named Project Aristotle, to discover what makes up the perfect team. 

The research team tracked, interviewed and monitored the performance of over 100 Google groups for more than a year.

Then, they did what Google does best: crunch the numbers!

The only thing was, the story that the numbers told was one they were not expecting.

To explain, let me ask you a simple question:

Which team would you choose to be on?

  1. Team #1 is full of high-calibre individuals, recognised for their expertise in their area of focus. When the team gets together, meetings are focused and effective, they rarely run over-time. When a topic comes up, the team politely listens to the person with expertise in that area, takes their advice and moves on efficiently.
  2. Team #2 is filled with executives with varied backgrounds and levels of accomplishment. When this team gets together, the conversation flows from topic to topic, others often finish each other’s sentences and regularly challenge one another. It’s not uncommon for meetings to run over-time. Once finished many of the team stay back to share personal stories and gossip.

Now, which of these teams is your money on to be the high-performers?

If you thought Team #1, you’ll be surprised to learn that Google’s research found it was actually the opposite.

And in the process, they discovered the #1 most important factor to team effectiveness…

A dynamic named psychological safety.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is defined as the in-group freedom to take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed.   

Team #1 described above, despite being filled with superstars, is a team where members feel psychologically inhibited to express themselves.

They don’t want to speak up for the fear of appearing ignorant, incompetent, or negative.

Think the nurse that goes along with a doctor’s prescription she believes may be wrong. Or the new executive that doesn’t speak up of concerns of a project due to fear of disagreeing with the group and appearing as an outsider.

You could also call it Workplace Silence, or Lack of Voice within the group.

This fear-driven dynamic results in teams that don’t challenge the status-quo, don’t come up with new ideas and don’t innovate.

On the flip side…

Google found top-performing teams were abundant in psychological safety. 

Members in these teams were free to be fully present in the team, drop the ‘work face’ and express themselves in a supportive, non-judgemental and non-critical team dynamic.

So you might be thinking that all this sounds overly complicated and too abstract to use in your business…

However next, I’m going to share 3 things you can do today to create a dynamic of psychological safety that frees people up to really engage and not be afraid of each other.

Let’s take a look:

Taking action: magic phrases that create psychological safety

The brilliant researcher who first discovered and published the dynamic psychological safety, Amy Edmondson, shares these simple yet effective techniques in her fantastic TedX Talk.

You can deploy these right away, each with their own magic phrases that will help to create interpersonal freedom and have your team performing at their best:

1. Frame The Work
Help your team to understand that the work is about learning and discovery, not perfect execution. This helps create the context for speaking up.

  • Say: “We’ve never been here before, in this unique time and situation within our business. We don’t have a crystal ball and we don’t know what’s coming around the corner next. So we need EVERYONE’S brain and voice in the game 100%.”

2. Acknowledge Your Fallacy
As the leader, it’s important that your team knows that they shouldn’t be following everything you say blindly. This helps create the safety for speaking up.

  • Say: “I may miss something important so I NEED to hear from you.”

3. Model Curiosity By Asking Questions
You can lead by example and create an environment of curiosity by asking lots of questions yourself. This helps create an environment for question asking.

  • Ask: “Why are we doing it this way?”, “What could we be doing better to achieve X?”, “How are you feeling as part of this team?”, “What needs to improve?”, etc.

Use these three techniques and you’ll help to build a team that’s free to participate fully, engage without fear, and become the greater sum of their individual parts!

Creating balanced safety

o round off this topic, I believe it’s important to create a balanced dynamic:

Psychological safety with accountability. 

No structure or timelines can lead to the team not respecting deliverables and impacting productivity. One example: people not coming on time, which can be costly while people wait for the meeting to start

Structure and guidelines are useful to make people feel safe to participate and get involved, while working towards clearly defined goals.

In this matrix, you’re looking for the sweet spot in the upper-right quadrant:

Image: Amy Edmondson, Teaming How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Complete (2012)


Take the Team Dynamics Quiz

To support you in June’s Team Building theme we’ve developed a D.I.S.C. based Team Dynamics Personality Quiz.

The purpose of the Quiz is to help you identify the dominant personality types of your team. Take the quiz yourself. Then forward it onto your employees to learn more about the make-up of your team:

Any questions?

If you have questions on this topic or any others, feel free to reach me by email or set up a free one-on-one consultation session, or drop me a comment below.

Thanks for sharing!