In an interview posted recently at Big Think, Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, describes what he sees as the formula for creating winning teams. In this interview, he describes how Google held the hypothesis that in order to create great, productive teams you need to carefully curate who is a part of each team (i.e. - make sure that you have enough extroverts, balance personality types, etc.) The only problem was, after looking at data they were collecting on team effectiveness, they essentially found no correlation between who was on the team and how the team performed.
After this surprising revelation, Google began looking at how teams interacted instead and found that effective teams had two norms that they held sacred: (1) conversational turn taking (Does everyone at the table have a chance to speak up?) and (2) high social-sensitivity (Can I pick up on what you are thinking and feeling through non-verbal cues?) Duhigg goes on to explain that the goal of these norms is to create "psychological safety", the idea that even if I am not the foremost expert on something or may not have my ideas fully formed yet, it is safe (and encouraged) for me to share with the group.
In his New York Times Magazine article that expounds on this idea, Guhigg states that “[n]o one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home, but to be fully present at work, to feel ‘psychologically safe,’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations.” This concept of others understanding who we truly are and accepting of our contributions is supported by other research on building effective teams. According to Gratton and Erickson (2007), major initiatives require “complex teams” made up of diverse individuals from across the organization. The only problem is that diverse teams are also extremely hard to manage and to help stay productive. Gratton and Ericsson recommend that in order to combat this a "strong sense of community” should be cultivated through things such as “sponsoring events and activities that bring people together and help them get to know one another”.
So, How Does this Translate to Education?
If we are to create "psychological safety" within our systems, schools, and classrooms, then we need to make room for individuals to share their personality and inner life with others in a meaningful way. This may be self-evident, but in the current environment of high-stakes assessments and ever escalating curriculum demands this often seems like it is the last thing on one's mind.
So what could this look like within the education field?
Within the experiences that we provide for educators within futurePREP'd, we create psychological safety for participants and model how this could be done within their classrooms by having them purposefully experience a couple of simple (yet powerful) tools and protocols:
Within their research and work around The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner found that organizations that have shared values (employees know their own values, those of the organization, and how they overlap) foster strong feelings of personal effectiveness, caring and teamwork. We have found the same in our work with educators and students.
Within our work with educators we have them identify their own values through a set of "values cards" in which they select the top three that define who they are. They then talk with other educators about which three they chose and why they did not select others. This simple act of having individuals share who they are at their "core" helps engender trust and understanding within the group at a rapid pace. In addition, educators that have utilized this tool with students within their own classrooms have found similar results.
Personal Haikus and 6-Word Memoirs
Whenever we bring together a new group of educators, we like to have them share something personal about themselves with the group right from the get-go. This typically involves a crazy-tight constraint such as writing a Haiku about the craziest moment in their life or a six word memoir (Smith Magazine has a great site devoted to six word memoirs). We find that the imposed constraints of the task actually produce more creativity from individuals and help elicit memorable descriptions of who people are.
There are other protocols and tools that we use with educators and students including having individuals identify which of the 10 Faces of Innovation they believe they are most like and creating something (i.e. - a painting, poem, sculpture, etc.) that represents that and identifying and sharing what part of the Design Thinking Process they most identify with. Overall, we find this process of coming to a common understanding of who we each are to be essential to the work that we do.
How about you? What tools and techniques have you utilized to produce a "strong sense of community" and "psychological safety" within your team or classroom?
About Jason Pasatta
I am passionate about learning, design, and the potential that we all possess. Currently I am the Director of Innovation Services for the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District in West Michigan, where I the lead the development of new and innovative educational programs, supports, and systems.