“Psychological safety doesn’t just make work more pleasant for everyone—it makes teams more successful.”
Mollie West Duffy is an organizational and leadership development expert. She was a lead organizational designer at global innovation firm IDEO, and has written about workplace culture and more for Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Quartz.
She is also the co-author, with Liz Fosslien, of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work. When No Hard Feelings became an official Next Big Idea Club selection, Mollie stopped by our headquarters to discuss the secrets of trusting, creative, productive teams. We’re proud to share some of her key insights below.
Successful teams depend on psychological safety. Google did a study to figure out what factors contributed to great teams, and the best teams had psychological safety, meaning that members felt they could suggest ideas, admit mistakes, and take risks without being embarrassed by the group. These teams were less likely to leave their jobs, brought in more revenue, and were rated twice as effective by executives.
Adam Grant studied the writers’ room at The Daily Show. He found that psychological safety helped these teams get to burstiness, which is when group members build on one another’s ideas so rapidly that the room feels like it’s bursting with creativity. Teams need a base of psychological safety so that members don’t take the interruptions that often come with rapid-fire idea generation personally.
“The best teams discuss ideas frequently, don’t let one person dominate the conversation, and are sensitive to one another’s feelings.”
To create an open environment of psychological safety, use these four techniques:
- Encourage open discussion. Questions like “Does anyone disagree?” do not effectively invite opposing viewpoints. Especially if someone on the team is quiet, ask each team member to write out their thoughts and then have everyone share them out loud. And don’t forget follow-up questions like “Say more about that.”
- Suggest a bad ideas brainstorm. Have team members throw out purposefully absurd ideas, or ask them to come up with the worst suggestion they can think of. This exercise takes the pressure off, and allows team members to be silly and adventurous.
- Ask clarifying questions, to make it okay for others to do the same. When team members use acronyms or jargon, ask them to explain (and avoid using them yourself ).
- Use generative language. If someone has an interesting suggestion, respond with, “Let’s try it!” If you like the gist of someone’s idea, say, “Building on that idea…”
The best teams discuss ideas frequently, don’t let one person dominate the conversation, and are sensitive to one another’s feelings. Remember, psychological safety doesn’t just make work more pleasant for everyone—it makes teams more successful.