The Secret to Team Performance (And 5 Strategies to Achieve it Virtually)

When Google HR hired a group of psychologists and sociologists to look for patterns in their highest performing teams, they thought team success had something to do with the mixture of personalities, backgrounds, and motivations within the team. After almost 200 team interviews, they still hadn’t found any discernable patterns to confirm their theory. Instead, they found that successful teams all shared one thing in common: a high degree of psychological safety.

Psychological safety is a sense of trust teams establish where people do not feel insecure or embarrassed by the possibility of failure. Studies show that on teams where people feel psychologically safe, people are more willing to share their perspective, take calculated risks, ask questions, admit mistakes, make jokes, challenge each other, and learn from one another.

Of course, developing this degree of trust within a team takes effort. With teams switching to virtual work, the effort to establish trust narrows to time spent on video calls, which can feel more convoluted and distant. To help get your virtual team moving in the right direction, we’ve compiled five concrete ways to build psychological safety in virtual meetings.

Recreate team chatter. Chatting around the table or in the hallway before a meeting doesn’t just pass the time as the group files in. Chatter actually quiets stress in the brain, relaxes people, and builds their courage to share later on during the meeting. To recapture your team’s lost chatter, manufacture it. Kick off meetings by having each person share something unrelated to work. Host a virtual happy hour or online game night. Close meetings by sharing weekend plans. The idea is to build group comfort and get people talking freely and just for fun. Then, when the discussion turns from light to consequential, people are already feeling more comfortable and therefore poised to contribute.

Break out in small groups. Who is quick to speak out among the 32 faces across two screens? No one, usually.People feel safer in small groups, and when people feel safe, they are more likely to open up. And this opening up in small groups actually translates back to the big group. When people report out to the big group, they tend to stand firmer with what they discussed in their breakout. That’s partially because the representative wants to stay true to their discussion group, and it’s also because they feel more supported by the group than they would feel speaking on their own behalf. Breakouts also prevent social loafing in bigger team meetings where many people feel that their individual contributions “aren’t worth the group’s time.”

Map the check-in process. Research shows that rules around communication reduce uncertainty and help build trust. Don’t just assign work vaguely with an arbitrary deadline. Agree to check-in points, check-in subgroups, and a process for completion. This helps hold people accountable as the task moves from hand to hand.

Reward people for risk-taking, candor, and feedback. Be sure to reinforce teammates who show vulnerability and risk-taking, even if you might not agree. Some teams even designate someone to “tell it like it is.” This person may call out things left unsaid, play “devil’s advocate,” and point out when other team members hog the stage, stay too quiet, or criticize unconstructively.

Break the meeting routine. Regularly scheduled meetings and check-ins can easily become routine, possibly becoming monotonous. To avoid people zoning out and counting the minutes, break the cycle: Cancel a meeting occasionally, hold an impromptu team meeting to celebrate a goal reached, call together a small group to devise a plan for a difficult problem, or even try scheduling monthly one-on-ones between randomly assigned team members to build internal relationships.

From Insights to Action. These strategies for creating team trust and safety may seem easy, but the challenge lies in upholding them over time. Commit to these strategies and give them time to grow into a natural part of how your team works together. Each one can make a big difference in your team dynamic and performance.

To learn more about increasing your team’s emotional intelligence, and TalentSmart’s products and programs to facilitate team development, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit https://www.talentsmart.com/contact-us/.

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