When I tell the story about the science and research at high performance teams,
I usually start with the story of Google.
So back in February 2016,
The New York Times Magazine published a story about Google and their work,
trying to figure out what is it that makes the best teams at Google the best teams.
Google is a very successful company that's got a lot of really good teams there,
but they have a lot of high performing teams there,
and some of the teams outperform the others.
They wanted to know why,
so that if they figured something out,
they could share that with the other teams at Google and they could all rise even higher.
There are six decades of research on high-performance teams.
You can look through the scientific literature and you can investigate with people then,
discovering that high-performance in teams.
While we're here, let's define high-performance teams.
So we've defined team, it's any group of
two or more people aligned with the common goal and a high-performance team
is one of those that's objectively better than other teams doing similar work.
So it's objective, it's something you can observe, it's something you could measure.
It's objectively better than other teams doing similar work.
We're not going to take a software development team and compare
them with a World Cup football soccer team,
they're doing different kinds of work.
But we could take two software development teams,
for example, and we can compare them,
and we could objectively discern which one of them
is performing at a higher level than the other.
So that's what we're talking about is high-performance.
Google hired the right people so they
could replicate that six decades of research within Google.
Over the years, people have discovered hundreds of
different attributes that they think correlate
to high performance and that really should correlate to high-performance.
Google wanted to figure out which one of those hundreds of
attributes correlated most highly to high-performance for their teams.
So they got about 200 teams to volunteer to participate in a replication of the research.
What they found at Google was that,
the one thing that correlated most highly to
high-performance teams, at Google, was something called psychological safety.
Psychological safety is a sense of interpersonal trust,
a sense of mutual respect,
of feeling that you can be comfortable being yourself,
that it's safe to take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed.
This comes from the research of Aimee Edmondson back in the late 1990s,
she discovered this state of mind that she called psychological safety.
Consequences of psychological safety include that
people on a team are more likely to partner with each other,
they're more likely to admit mistakes,
they're more likely to take on new roles.
It's okay to try things out.
They're less likely to leave the company and they're more likely to
harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates.
They actively bring in more revenue than other teams.
When executives look at teams that measure high on psychological safety,
they rate them effective twice as often as other teams.
Some of the things that go into this or that they have group norm,
they have written or unwritten rules.
They have a team culture.
The key to this is to understand and influence the group norms.
The right group norms can raise the group's collective intelligence.
All of these things are consequences of psychological safety.
This applies to all different areas of work and it
applies very much to people doing creative, innovative work.
I shared this New York Times article about Google with a colleague in Boston where I live,
his name is Steven Wolff.
Steve Wolff co-wrote with Vanessa Druskat
an article in the Harvard Business Review in about 15 years ago,
about something called Team Emotional Intelligence.
So I asked Steve about psychological safety, talking
about Google's replication of the research.
He nodded his head, he stroked his chin in a professorial way and he said,
"Yeah, that's absolutely the truth.
People know this. This is fact.
This has been researched so much that this is fact."
There's more too within that.
Psychological safety is an outcome of something
a little bit broader called team emotional intelligence.
So team emotional intelligence is a broader thing than psychological safety.
It includes psychological safety.
It includes a set of norms like interpersonal understanding,
addressing counterproductive behaviors, caring behavior,
the ability for the team to understand itself,
the ability of the team to manage itself,
manage its behaviors amongst the group and while interacting with other teams.
It uses the model of
Individual Emotional Intelligence popularized by Dan Goleman back around 1995.
It's about how the team perceives themselves as individuals, as a team,
as a whole unit,
and their role within the larger organization,
external relationships, things like social capital.
It turns out that teams that measure high on team emotional intelligence,
which includes psychological safety,
those teams measure higher on performance than other teams.
So team emotional intelligence is an important aspect of this.
Now, in all of this academic work,
they're talking about correlation, not causation.
So for most of these types of research,
when this is done as research,
they're just measuring teams and letting them do their work.
When it's done as consulting or coaching,
they measure teams, they hold a workshop,
they teach them about psychological safety and team emotional intelligence,
and they wish people good luck,
go back to your desks,
try to do more psychological safety,
try to do more team emotional intelligence without giving them
any particular behaviors that they can engage with
each other to raise those measurable attributes.
There's another body of work,
unrelated to the academic work and this is called the Core Protocols.
This is the work of two people,
Jim McCarthy and Michelle McCarthy.
It's contemporaneous with all this academic research.
Back in the 1990s,
they worked on one of the most successful software teams ever.
It was objectively better than other groups doing similar work.
It really was one of the best software teams of all time.
Jim and Michelle reflected on that experience and they did a few things intentionally,
but they felt like they got lucky.
They were curious about how they could make that happen again on
purpose if it was possible to make it happen again on purpose.
So Jim McCarthy, Michelle McCarthy,
started up a team research lab to try to figure out what goes into high performing teams,
what goes into effectiveness on teams.
In their lab, this is the experiment they conducted.
They would get a group of people, called them a team.
They'd give them an assignment and five days to get it done.
At first they would just watch.
So they ran this experiment about 5-10 times,
and they just watched the teams work together on that assignment.
For the teams that were successful,
the McCarthy's noticed that those people had common behavior patterns.
There were some things that they did that were similar
to the other teams that were successful in the lab.
McCarthy's thought they might be onto something,
so they documented these behaviors in a way that
they could transmit them to other people on other teams,
so that they could teach them to other people on other teams.
They documented these behavior patterns as protocols.
So a protocol is a way that two humans
can communicate with each other in a way that's very clear,
there are no misunderstandings and they can accomplish their goals together,
like a diplomatic protocol, for example.
So the McCarthy's documented these success patterns
from the evidence of watching high performance teams as protocols,
and they ran the experiments again,
but this time a little differently.
On the first day of the lab they gave the team an assignment,
and they gave them these behavior patterns for
success and five days to get the assignment done.
Every time they did that,
those teams in the lab were successful.
Then they tried this again in the wild with real teams in
real work organizations and those teams were also successful.
So the McCarthy's figured out a way to transmit the behavior patterns for
high performance to teams that could
learn these skills and practice them in their real work.