Culture Leadership Performance Team effectiveness

Discover the number one driver of team performance

One of Google’s most extensive research projects on workplace culture, called Project Aristotle, found that the number one driver of team performance is psychological safety.

Did you ever walk into a meeting with people you never met before, and you felt immediately something was off?

Nobody had said a word yet, and still, you knew what you were experiencing wasn’t right.

Then, well into the meeting, you suddenly realize what’s going on.

People are afraid to say what they’re thinking.

What you felt immediately was fear.

Perhaps you never experienced this feeling, which may well be the case.

That can only mean two things:

Or, your radar to smell fear has not fully developed or is being ignored.

Or, you’re the leader that’s causing the fear.

Books, articles, studies about psychological safety keep being published.

The reason is simple.

Many people understand the upside of a psychologically safe workplace, but the problem is still not going away. That makes it stuff worth writing about.

Let’s start by reminding you of the case for psychological safety.

One of Google’s most extensive research projects on workplace culture, called Project Aristotle, found that the number one driver of team performance is psychological safety.

Again, the number one driver of team performance is psychological safety.

Here’s a link to a New York Times article, “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team” about the project in case you’re interested.

And, here are some of the benefits from a psychologically safe workplace, freely adapted from an article by John Dobbin:

  • People will share what they think, which fosters collaboration and increases the chances for better decision making
  • Another consequence of better thinking and better sharing is more creativity, and thus more innovation
  • People will feel included, appreciated and will less likely leave the company (silently). On the contrary, they will be engaged and happy to go to work
  • When people enjoy their work more, the workplace becomes a better place to be. Energy will be up; people will be smiling. Such an environment is a magnet for talent.
  • People who feel free to say what they think are less anxious and stressed. They won’t take their worries home with them, which also impacts those they’re close to in life. Health will improve, both mentally and physically.

When you’re the leader of an organization or team, you would think that these benefits of psychological safety are a no-brainer to make it your number one priority.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The problem is persistent and keeps growing, which is the direct consequence of bad leadership.

The million-dollar question is why leaders ignore all the evidence in favor of a psychologically safe work environment?

The short answer to that question is insecurity.

Many leaders do not know how to lead people properly. They do not know how to include their people, ask for questions, make themselves vulnerable, or even have a decent dialogue.

Many leaders use power to mask their inability to lead people. By pretending that they know it all and putting people down, they confirm their status as leaders.

Many leaders are afraid themselves.

Afraid of their superiors, of the future of their business, of losing control, or afraid of themselves.

What if people find out they’re not perfect? How will that make them look?

Well researched by Brene Brown, she quotes,

“shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Brene Brown

In other words, if you don’t accept yourself first, you will have trouble finding belonging.

Shame, therefore, has a significant impact on the way leaders lead, and therefore on psychological safety.

The solution to creating a safe place to work is courage.

The courage to confront yourself as a leader and allow yourself to be vulnerable.

And for those dealing with those leaders, the courage to speak up and start a dialogue that may create a permanent breakthrough.

If those two go hand in hand, there’s a reason for optimism.

Your turn: how much courage do you have inside of you?

Do more of what makes you happy.


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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