Psychological safety is increasingly seen as a key factor in maximizing the performance of teams: When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more capable of taking risks, communicating candidly, and thinking creatively. Drawing on the lessons Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google, learned during the tech giant’s two-year study on team performance, Laura Delizonna looked at some ways managers can foster psychological safety at the Harvard Business Review last week:
1. Approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. We humans hate losing even more than we love winning. A perceived loss triggers attempts to reestablish fairness through competition, criticism, or disengagement, which is a form of workplace-learned helplessness. Santagata knows that true success is a win-win outcome, so when conflicts come up, he avoids triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by asking, “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”
2. Speak human to human. Underlying every team’s who-did-what confrontation are universal needs such as respect, competence, social status, and autonomy. Recognizing these deeper needs naturally elicits trust and promotes positive language and behaviors. Santagata reminded his team that even in the most contentious negotiations, the other party is just like them and aims to walk away happy. …
3. Anticipate reactions and plan countermoves. “Thinking through in advance how your audience will react to your messaging helps ensure your content will be heard, versus your audience hearing an attack on their identity or ego,” explains Santagata.
Psychological safety is a topic of particular interest to diversity and inclusion professionals, as its benefits are especially important in building and managing diverse teams. In our latest research at CEB, now Gartner, we discuss why creating these spaces and having these conversations can be so hard:
With remote work rapidly on the rise among professionals in the US and other countries, one of the great debates about contemporary workplace culture concerns whether working remotely from home or a coworking space is better, worse, or just different than working on-site in an office. Some studies have suggested that remote workers are more focused and productive, and less likely to quit, than regular office employees. On the other hand, some companies, most notably IBM, have been having second thoughts about their remote work policies recently, recalling employees to the office in an effort to improve communication and team collaboration.
So is remote work better than office work, or isn’t it? Unfortunately, Humanyze CEO Ben Waber tells Sarah Kessler at Quartz, there is no simple answer to that question—it all depends on the type of work being done, among other factors including the culture of the organization and the amount of teamwork involved:
A European retail bank that hired Humanyze to analyze its office layout, for instance, found that sales teams that spent time interacting in person outperformed those who worked remotely. That appears to contradict an often-cited 2014 study by Stanford researchers that looked at how working from home impacted employees at a Chinese travel agent’s call center. The study found that employees at home were on average 13% more productive, making more phone calls and spending more time on the phone.
But the circumstances of the two workspaces were very different. Members of the sales team, Waber hypothesizes, benefit from learning how others do the job better. In-person, an improvement one person makes is more likely to be shared with others. …
A growing body of research indicates that diversity and inclusion are not just matters of corporate social responsibility, but in fact have benefits that strengthen an organization’s culture and can boost the bottom line. One of these benefits is that diversity is thought to enhance creativity and innovation by diminishing groupthink and exposing employees to a wider range of ideas and experiences from their colleagues.
A study last year found that 81 percent of tech startup founders believed that a diverse workforce enhanced creativity and innovation—although most of their companies did not have diverse workforces. This connection is particularly salient in creative industries like advertising, where clients have been pushing agencies to diversify their creative teams so that they more closely mirror the customers they are trying to reach.
The precise relationship between diversity and creativity is not so clear-cut, however: Tomas Chamorro-Premuzik weighs the evidence at the Harvard Business Review and warns that employers who hope to use diversity as the key to unlock their teams’ creative potential may end up disappointed:
There’s a difference between generating ideas and implementing ideas. While diverse team composition does seem to confer an advantage when it comes to generating a wider range of original and useful ideas, experimental studies suggest that such benefits disappear once the team is tasked with deciding which ideas to select and implement, presumably because diversity hinders consensus. A meta-analysis of 108 studies and more than 10,000 teams indicated that the creativity gains produced by higher team diversity are disrupted by the inherent social conflict and decision-making deficits that less homogeneous teams create. …
Last month, the Register reported that IBM was recalling much of its sizable remote US workforce to six regional headquarters in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, and other major cities:
The consolidation effort, which IBM is pitching as a move to improve productivity, teamwork, and morale, is set to be extended to all IBM operations over the next six months. Remote workers, and staff at smaller offices, will be told to move closer to a regional hub, with IBM offering to cover some costs, or leave the company. Employees are being given roughly 30 days to make their choice.
The computing giant’s decision to scale back its remote workforce is notable as it comes at a time when more and more Americans are working from home (or somewhere other than the office), and working remotely at least part of the time appears to have a positive effect on employee engagement. It’s also a surprising move from a company famous for having pioneered the concept of remote work in the first place, Quartz’s Sarah Kessler points out as part of an in-depth look at why IBM decided to make this change:
As early as the 1980s, the company had installed “remote terminals” in several employees’ homes. And by 2009, when remote work was still, for most, a novelty, 40% of IBM’s 386,000 global employees already worked at home (the company noted that it had reduced its office space by 78 million square feet and saved about $100 million in the US annually as a result). IBM’s marketing department had also acquired small startups without relocating their employees to central IBM offices. By early February, when [chief marketing officer Michelle] Peluso made her announcement, it was not uncommon for every member of a small team in her department to dial into conference calls from a different location.
IBM is also not alone among major employers in having second thoughts about maintaining a large remote workforce, Kessler adds:
To Frank Kalman, managing editor of Talent Economy, Wells Fargo’s fake-accounts scandal is an example of how commission-based compensation often fails to drive overall performance as an incentive structure. He compares Wells Fargo’s situation to a similar problem in professional sports:
In Wells Fargo’s case, bankers wanted to meet individual commissions targets based not on organizationwide performance but on amount of new accounts opened. After a while, a single employee figures out a way to game the system, opens a few fake accounts to meet a target, tells a colleague and the culture pervades. Soon enough, the goal becomes not helping Wells Fargo drive new business by creating fake bank accounts, but filling their own real bank accounts with commissions driven by bad behavior. The result: Wells Fargo owes $185 million in fines and has to fire 5,300 employees (not to mention the public scrutiny the bank will have to endure for years to come).
Professional sports are another example of performance-based pay run amiss — although the practice there usually doesn’t lead to criminal accusation. Most professional athletes are compensated generously in their base salaries, but many earn a good deal through performance-based bonuses. A baseball player, for example, might earn a certain bonus if they reach a threshold for number of innings pitched over the course of a season. Another might be rewarded extra pay if they hit a certain number of home runs.
At CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Miami earlier this month, diversity and inclusion professionals stressed the importance of HR becoming “comfortable with being uncomfortable” as they become familiar with the concept of unconscious bias. Learning about one’s own internalized biases, which most of us would prefer to believe don’t exist, can be disquieting, but the work of overcoming those biases begins with acknowledging them and being willing to feel the discomfort that comes with taking that step.
But what if getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is about more than just implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy? What if it’s one of the organizational strengths that comes with diversity. At the Harvard Business Review, David Rock, Heidi Grant Halvorson, and Jacqui Grey make the case that diverse teams are more effective precisely because they’re less comfortable. They reference a 2009 study of fraternity and sorority members:
In the experiment, teams were asked to solve a murder mystery. First, students were individually given 20 minutes to study the clues and pinpoint the likely suspect. Next, they were placed into teams of three with fellow members from the same Greek house and given 20 minutes to discuss the case together and provide a joint answer. Five minutes into the discussion, however, they were joined by a fourth team member, someone from either their own house or another one. After collectively naming their suspect, members individually rated aspects of the discussion. More diverse groups — those joined by someone from outside their own fraternity or sorority — judged the team interactions to be less effective than did groups joined by insiders. They were also less confident in their final decisions.
In a recent study of restaurant servers, INSEAD’s Serguei Netessine and Tom Tan of Southern Methodist University explored how the presence of high performers influenced the work of their less competent colleagues. What they found is that competence is indeed “contagious,” at least to an extent:
With algorithmic assistance, it is possible to quantify an individual employee’s innate ability as well as his or her sales performance; but, crucially, stats pertaining to individuals don’t necessarily tell you much about what will be in the till at the end of the night. The critical factor is team performance, which can often be more, or less, than the sum of the parts. …
Having established a baseline skill level for each server, we found that the servers’ sales performance during a given shift would rise or fall depending on who happened to be working with them. Low-skilled servers seemed capable of punching above their weight when the overall skill level of the team was higher. Importantly, this contagion can be charted in an inverted U-shape, meaning that when a shift was stacked too thickly with superstars, the other servers performed below their capacity.