Colin Yeow - Oct 13, 2020

Safety first: Key to Team Effectiveness

The holy grail of many organisations and HR departments is achieving team effectiveness. But how do we measure this?

Team effectiveness and performance evaluation have always been hot buzzwords in the industry. Leaders of those teams often ask, "How do we enhance the performance of our team?" The question then posed in return by trainers and consultants alike would be: “Which aspects do you need to improve on?" or “How do you measure your performance?” Very often, there is no definitive answer.

In 2012, Google embarked on Project Aristotle to study hundreds of Google’s teams to uncover what makes some teams more effective than others. Part of this project involved first defining “effectiveness”, which after using a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures, ended up being measured in four different ways:

  • Executive evaluation of the team
  • Team leader evaluation of the team
  • Team member evaluation of the team
  • Sales / business performance

After the extensive collection of data (200+ interviews, 250 attributes, 180+active teams), and running over 35 different statistical models on hundreds of variables, researchers derived five dynamics of effective teams, in order of importance (starting with the most important factor):

  • Psychological safety (“Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other”)
  • Dependability (“Team members get things done on time”)
  • Structure & Clarity (“Team members have clear roles, plans, and goals)
  • Meaning (“Work is personally important to team members”)
  • Impact (“Team members think their work matters and create change”)

According to the study, psychological safety was by far the most important of the five dynamics. And it makes complete sense!

In any team we’re part of (family, community, work etc), we could be working with highly dependable people, with lots of clarity and meaning, and making a positive impact, but, if we become reluctant to communicate or behave in a way that makes people negatively perceive our competence, it will be detrimental to effective communication, and hence, effective teamwork. Without psychological safety, we will be afraid to admit mistakes, to share ideas, to partner with people, and to take on new projects or challenges. With psychological safety, we will be more willing to take on interpersonal risk and be more vulnerable with each other. This naturally leads to better communication, more effective teams, and eventually, a more positive culture – workplace, or otherwise.

Psychological safety is a great way to build Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) programmes on. If members in a diverse workforce can begin to feel safe to speak up, contribute and collaborate, we will be able to better capitalise on each person’s uniqueness as part of the ability to look at a situation from many perspectives. This feeling of inclusion amidst diversity is crucial in building high performing teams. This becomes a team strength.

So, how do we measure Team Effectiveness? Well, one way is to measure the team’s Psychological Safety and a simple search shows up several tools you can use to do that. There’s this. Or this. And several other options as well.

Measuring it is one thing. The other thing to think about it how we can continue to sustain and grow psychological safety in our teams. I’d like to believe that it’s in the little things in this 3-step process we can do every single day.

Assume Positive Intent 

Recognise the gap that exists between any two people

Choose 

Pause, adopt a growth mindset and choose to respond positively

Engage

Develop strategies, take action to close the gaps


At Emergenetics, we often say that we are in the business of “closing the gap”. Our “Engage” strategies often utilise the WEapproach (Whole Emergenetics Approach).
This simply means managing a task, project or team, no matter how simple or complex, from the Emergenetics framework of 4 diverse thinking and 3 behavioural preferences.

This goes a long way towards helping each of us ensure that a holistic approach is always made despite our individual preferences and inclinations while also offering team members a common language to speak, relate and understand each other better.

In the long run, as we “ACE” our relationships, we will build psychological safety in both our workplace and home fronts, and this leads not just to greater team effectiveness but better well-being and happiness as well.

Ultimately, using psychological safety as a foundation for our relationships, we will have a strong base on which we can Build Effective, Safe Teams (BEST!)

Written by Colin Yeow