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The secret behind high-performing teams

The secret behind high-performing teams
Published: January 8, 2021
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As we enter a new year and in many countries - another lockdown, with virtual working and learning looking set to continue for some time, it’s important to remind ourselves of the need for high-performing, strong and well-connected teams. But what exactly makes a high-performing team?

Following the success of its Project Oxygen in 2015, Impact client, Google, published the results of a two-year study into what constitutes a great team. Was it the team with the most senior people? With the highest collective IQ? With the fewest mistakes? Interestingly, it was psychological safety that stood out as the most important factor. Google’s Project Aristotle uncovered five key dynamics that make teams particularly successful:

  • Psychological safety
  • Dependability
  • Structure and clarity
  • Meaning
  • Impact

The term ‘psychological safety’ was originally defined by Harvard Business Review as ‘the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.’ And indeed, what Google found was that the teams who made the most mistakes outperformed those that didn’t.

Why? Because creating safe environments in which people are allowed to fail ultimately means that they are free to voice their opinions, take more risks and foster a culture of innovation. A strong team bounces ideas off each other, builds on each other’s action points, solves issues together, and supports one another. It’s the key foundation to building trust and fostering innovation.

‘There’s no team without trust,’ says Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google. In order for teams to excel, it’s key that the workplace feels challenging, but not threatening. Here are four simple ways you can promote and build psychological safety amongst your team.

  1. Human to human approach: Even in the hardest team situations of who-did-what, it’s vital we remember that the person in front of us is just like us, in that they also want to feel recognised, they also want to feel supported, and they have their own hopes, anxieties and aspirations.
  2. Feedback culture: Regularly asking for feedback as well as providing it should be business as usual in high-performing teams. Feedback should be seen as a tool to help build a stronger team and improve processes. Lead by example by sharing a recent failure and your learnings from it at your next team meeting.
  3. Creating a safe environment: How many times have you been in a meeting where nobody seems to voice what everyone is thinking? Or one where people are on their phones rather than listening or contributing? There are little practices you can introduce in meetings to encourage active listening and involvement, such as showing understanding by repeating your team member’s point, asking more questions, avoiding blame language, and encouraging out-of-the-box ideas to be listened to and discussed.
  4. Inclusive decision-making: Asking for your team members’ input when making decisions and seeking their thoughts and feedback will help them to feel included and build psychological safety. Once a decision has been made it’s also essential to communicate to them how their input was taken into consideration. With the huge and unprecedented rise of remote work in the past year, it’s more critical than ever to show honesty and transparency in decision-making.

Creating a psychologically safe team environment will always improve employee experience and, as a result, improve performance. Which of the above tips will you try next with your team?

Teddy Todorova is Digital Marketing Manager at Impact.

Discover more on Impact’s approach to team development.