Google recently published a multi-year study on how to build the perfect team. They were surprised to discover that psychological safety is the one and only factor that great teams have in common. Google’s research group then set out to learn how to create a psychologically safe environment.
Eight years prior to Google’s research, Jake, not his real name, the top executive of a massive organisation, followed four principles to create a psychologically safe, ego free team. He believed such a team would be the organisation’s greatest asset, and they were, as measured by the degree to which the organisation outperformed the company’s top competitor.
The Ego Free Team
A Wall Street Journal article compared the two leadership teams.
“They [Jake’s team] have derailed the competition by building an entirely new kind of organisation that taps into the power and passion of all employees. They are remarkably disciplined. They have outmanoeuvred the competition with no leaks, no infighting and virtually no credit for their effort. Given their accomplishments they might be household names by now. This brain trust, however, works in near anonymity. This is no accident. The team lives by the rule, ‘All the credit goes to the company not to the individuals.’”
The Ego-Laden Team
In comparison, the competition’s leadership team is:
“Beset by leaks and infighting. The warring factions include an overbearing strategist, a know-it-all adviser, and ego laden flacks. The team is comprised of self-important vice-presidents who battle loudly and publicly about budget, turf, access to the CEO and prestige.”
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Jake’s Message to His Team
When Jake pulled the team together for the first time, he told them, “I’m not sure that I am going to be the best CEO. But I am absolutely positive that we have the opportunity to create the best organisation, and in the end that is more important to our success. The way great things happen is when people are willing to submerge their own egos and focus on common goals and tasks. That’s my mind-set. It’s not just a gimmick, it’s not just a shtick. I actually believe in it.”
According to team members:
“When he’s running a meeting, he does more listening than talking, asking questions and taking the temperature of everyone in the room. He listens to you as though you are his right hand person. He focuses, he prods, he pushes, to help enrich your thinking and to make sure that he fully understands your position. That sets an important tone. When you go into a meeting expecting to learn from each other and not dictate, it fosters camaraderie.
Jake focused on four principles to build his team:
- Find and select competent people (note: selecting the best, smartest or most renowned is not required, especially if it violates principle 2);
- Make sure no one needs to build their ego;
- Collaboratively develop a shared vision;
- Collectively determine the rules of play for working together.
What Happens in a Psychologically Safe, Ego-free Team?
Each and every member was excited and passionate. The group quickly became a strong inner circle that worked through, or set aside, differences. Each person worked to achieve the greater mission. People expressed different perspectives, building on each other’s ideas and energy. Their collaboration led to a greater collective intelligence that exceeded the sum of its parts.
The business had its dark times, but this didn’t divide the team. At one point, the main competition was winning. Jake’s team had to rethink their strategy. The situation was ripe for finger-pointing and internal warfare. Egos could have, but didn’t, take over. Instead, the team became stronger. They drew sharper distinctions between their company and the competitor’s company. Jake’s team turned things around. The company regained its lead.
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After reading the Wall Street Journal article, referenced here, Jake grabbed the paper and headed for work. He was glowing from the inside out He couldn’t wait to share the news, and a shared sense of pride, with his team.
The excerpts are from a 2007 Wall Street Journal article that compared Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaign teams. Whether or not you support Obama’s policies, we all know who won. What you may not have known, until now, is that an ego-free, psychological safe environment made it possible. This article first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse on March 14th, 2016.
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