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  • Writer's pictureAlejandro Buriel Rocha

How high performing teams work.


Continuing with our articles on Psychological Safety, here there are some more clues and details about its impact on High Performing teams.


Creating a high performing team takes more than just talent and hard work. It requires a certain level of psychological safety that can only be achieved when team members feel comfortable to take risks, ask questions, and express their ideas without fear of judgement or consequences. Achieving this level of psychological safety requires open and honest communication, collaboration, and a willingness to trust and support each other.


On the third floor of a shiny modernistic building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a group of scientists is obsessed with understanding the inner workings of group chemistry.


The MIT Human Dynamics Lab. The lab is run by Alex (Sandy) Pentland. “This is a different way of thinking about human beings,” Pentland says. “Individuals aren’t really individuals. They’re more like musicians in a jazz quartet, forming a web of unconscious actions and reactions to complement the others in the group. You don’t look at the informational content of the messages; you look at patterns that show how the message is being sent. Those patterns contain many signals that tell us about the relationship and what’s really going on beneath the surface.”


Overall Pentland’s studies show that team performance is driven by five measurable factors:


1. Everyone in the group talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short.

2. Members maintain high levels of eye contact, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.

3. Members communicate directly with one another, not just with the team leader.

4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team.

5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back to share with the others.


These groups are also characterized because there exists a high level of Psychological Safety as we have been recently talking about. In these groups there is a patern in the way that they interact.


Psychological safety is a concept introduced by Amy Edmonson, a Harvard Business School professor. In her research, she found that in high-performing teams, team members feel safe to take risks an be vulnerable in front of each other. This allows them to speak up, voice their opinions, and share ideas without fear of judgement.


At the same time, it is important to create an environment of psychological safety by creating a culture of mutual respect, trust, and open communication. This can include acknowledging mistakes, and actively listening to the opinions of others. Team members can also benefit from team building activities that focus on collaboration and communication.


The combination of the five measurable factors of Pentland’s studies and an atmosphere of psychological safety is key for high-performing teams. These teams are able to collaborate, innovate, and solve problems more effectively and efficiently than teams that lack both of these components. A recent study found that teams with high psychological safety and the five measurable factors had greater productivity and better outcomes than teams that lacked either or both of these components.


But, high-performing teams require more than just the five measurable factors identified by Pentland’s studies and psychological safety. According to a recent report by the Harvard Business Review, successful teams need to have a clear purpose, a shared understanding of goals, and an effective communication structure. The team also needs to have a sense of belonging and trust, and team members should be able to rely on each other for support and encouragement.


In conclusion, high performing teams are characterized by a combination of the five measurable factors identified by Pentland’s studies, a strong sense of psychological safety, a clear purpose and understanding of goals, and effective communication structures. Teams that are able to successfully achieve these components are more likely to be successful in collaboration, innovation, and problem solving.


Building high performing teams that foster psychological safety is not easy, but it can be done. It requires commitment and dedication from everyone involved, with a focus on developing a culture of trust, respect, and collaboration. Taking the time to invest in creating a high performing team with a culture of psychological safety is well worth the effort, as it will be rewarded with increased productivity and improved morale. Investing in creating these teams is the first step towards creating a successful and sustainable workplace.


References: “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups”. By Daniel Coyle


Do you want to discover how to create these kind of dynamics and interactions for high performing teams?

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