Safe Space

Safe Space

Have you ever been part of a group that is exhausting?

What about a group that is exhilarating?

In an increasingly complex world, what we know about and how we process work in teams is critical. Some studies indicate that over the past 20 years, the time spent in collaborative activities has increased by 50 percent or more. It’s common for employees to spend more than 75 percent of their time each day communicating with colleagues.

Groups deliver important benefits. They speed innovation, catch errors quickly and identify better solutions for vexing challenges. People that work in teams regularly achieve better results and are happier with their jobs. Evidence also suggests that profitability increases when workers collaborate more often.

While “employee performance optimization” is a common concern for any organization, it’s not enough to look only at individual professional development. It’s now vital to thoughtfully construct how people work together.

Stagger or Soar

Tech giant Google considered its 51,000 employees, a fertile testing ground for team effectiveness. Not long ago they took on the challenge of learning why some teams stagger and others soar. Research done by sociologists and psychologists pointed them toward group norms. These are the shared values, expected standards and implicit “rules” for functioning when people gather. They vary relative to team composition – even if all operate in the same organization.

Group leaders are important referees and coaches because the “right” norms can raise a group’s intelligence, while the “wrong” norms can disable a group. Two vital factors raise collective intelligence: equal distribution of air time and social sensitivity or empathy towards team mates. Clear goals and reliable interdependence matter, too.

Feeling Safe

The “big”finding? Whether or not people work together effectively in a team reflects psychological safety. Safety is what Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, defines as “a confidence the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.” Effective teams, organizations and communities are safe. Real progress and results depends on it.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. leads Wyatt Advisors, a resource for effective people and organizations. See: www.wyattadvisors.com. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact: lwyattknowlton@gmail.com.

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