What is the most significant factor that is going to determine whether your team is successful or not?  (And it is not the primary factor by only a small margin!) Do I have your attention?  The research captured mine!  Most days, I’m not easily moved by headlines.  I am just inundated with too much information and too many “headlines” for much reaction.  However, when I saw that this research came from the minds of Google and it was the result of an internal team study, I sat up and took notice.  So, here is what they found…drum roll, please!

Google wanted to know why some of their internal teams experienced great success while other teams just seemed to struggle.  So, being Google, they internalized their analyzing ability to glean information by studying over 180 Google teams.  They conducted over 200 interviews and analyzed over 250 factors or data points to try to determine the magic formula.

What they discovered is that “who” is on the team matters less than “how” team members interact, structure their work, and view their individual contributions.  In other words, it wasn’t about hiring only super stars, but rather about team dynamics.  Google found five key factors which set successful teams apart.  I am not going to delve into all the factors as part of this article.  However, there was one key trait, far beyond the others, that by itself would determine a team’s likelihood to succeed.  That key factor?  Psychological safety.

Ok, I may have lost you.  I tend to hear “psychological safety” and I start squirming.   It sounds so touchy-feely, like one of those terms that evokes discomfort, such as “participation award.”  But hear me out.  This is how Google defined psychological safety: “The ability to take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed.”  To emphasize, they found that a team’s ability to be effective is in part dependent upon their ability to take risks.  Warming up to the finding now?   This data unveils an incredible insight and something I have long suspected.  Many teams or organizations stumble because, for one reason or another, they cease to take risks.  And at least, based on Google’s research, the aversion to risk is because team members don’t feel secure in presenting ideas that inherently push boundaries which thereby lead to risk.

So, why would this be?  Why are these team members so risk averse?  What Google went on to say was while it may seem easy on the surface, employees who don’t feel safe when offering an idea or asking a question are less inclined to participate or innovate.  The reluctance stems from the hesitation to engage in activities that could negatively influence how others perceive competence, awareness, and positivity.    Let me put this differently.  Your team, your organization, is floundering because the members of your team or organization don’t believe that it is safe to share ideas that challenge the status quo.  Rather, they feel that their competence, their perceptions, or their positive attitudes will be questioned.  Personally, I have experienced this very issue where my own positivity was questioned because I brought forth ideas that challenged the conventional.  Subsequently, because it felt as though my ideas were not really welcomed, I simply quit offering them.  It just didn’t feel safe to do so.

So, what can you do?  If you are a leader, you must, must focus a portion of your time to cultivating the kind of environments where people feel safe to openly express and wrestle with risky ideas.  The failure to do so, more than any other factor, dooms your team or organization to mediocrity, at best.  I would challenge you, don’t go another day without asking your team or organization the hard question: do we as a team feel safe to have the kind of conversations that leads to risk taking?  If the answer is yes, then great job and keep building a great organization!  If not, it’s not too late to take action.  A great first step in creating a sense of team safety is to participate in PrairieFire’s training.  Through this training, the impact of personality in the work environment will be comprehended.  I guarantee that your team or organization will come away with a greater understanding of each other with clear action steps to create safer environments, conducive to taking more risks.

Later, I will share the other four factors from the Google study.  But for now, contact me if you want help in creating a culture of greater success.

Until next time,

Dan Moeller