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Creating team safety in 1 easy step

by Joshua King on May 23, 2018


One thing that we learned from Google’s Project Aristotle is that the highest performing teams have a single thing in common. What is that thing, you ask? Safety. Not safety as in they are in physical danger, but a far more difficult to measure safety, psychological safety. This is the safety to speak up without fear of retaliation, the knowledge that we can disagree and it’ll be ok, that the truth is not just welcome, but expected.

When joining a new team, creating safety is imperative to ensuring a great working environment, but how do you do that with a bunch of strangers you’ve never worked with? How do you create an environment where you know how to argue effectively with each other? And most importantly, how do you create a space where you aren’t just the other resources on the team, but you’re a human being with aspirations, goals, desires, hurts, and all that goes with it?

The quickest way to create that connection, is to help people understand who you are, and you to understand who they are. Where did they come from? What are they proud of? What are they not so proud of? What made them happy? Are they happy now? This is all incredibly valuable information that helps you create a bond that’ll allow constructive disagreement. To get to this, there’s an incredibly powerful tool, Journey Mapping (it may have also been called empathy mapping).

The idea is this, draw a graph with the x-axis being time and the y-axis being happiness. Draw a line across indicating that it’s not happy, not sad, more like, ‘meh’. Now each person independently starts at whatever point they choose, it could be early childhood, it could be their first job. It’s up to the facilitator to set the rules, but the more open you are here, the better everyone will know you. From here, you put a dot on the graph for each event that you can think of, be it happy or sad. Once you’ve caught up with today, connect the dots, and add any kind of embellishment you choose, draw pictures, make frowny faces for the unhappy incidents, get creative! This is your opportunity to show your personality, so go bananas!

After the drawing period is over, each team member takes the whole team through their graph, telling them about why there’s that three your trough after your second job, and why you left the job that had you at the peak of happiness. How did you arrive here, at this very moment, in this room, at this company? The team can ask questions as they learn about you, and before you know it, you’ll find lots of laughter in the room. This is the first step in creating team safety.

With this grounding in a shared understanding of where you come from, the team will more quickly start to gel and work together more easily. It’ll open up the team, accelerating the transition through the Tuckman stages from forming through storming and into norming.

Try it out with your team and let me know how it goes!