Amy Edmonson defines psychological safety as "a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking" (1999). While conducting a study of medical teams, she discovered a contradiction: successful teams made more mistakes than average teams
. Then the revelation, they were not making more mistakes, but simply admitting to them more due to a "climate of openness." The ability to be unafraid of speaking up in a group with all team members present is what separates the best. This isn't easy to do, especially for those in the position to initiate learning behaviors such as admitting to a mistake, asking questions and seeking feedback because these behaviors pose a threat to the face (Brown, 1990). In high power distance cultures like China, "losing face" is a social phenomenon that often lead to conflict avoidance. Intelligent Units
Edmonton builds on the work of some of her mentors, including J. Richard Hackman, who noted in Chapter 2 Teamwork that the 2008 financial crisis might have been avoided if more people spoke up. Hackman conducted a study himself on the critical factor that makes US intelligent units effective, and he came to realize it wasn't who was on the team, how many people were on the team, a clear vision, defined roles, appropriate awards, resources, or strong leadership, but helpfulness towards each other (Grant, 2013), and this became an underlying thesis of Wharton professor Adam Grant that Giver cultures, where employees help others, share knowledge, and make connections without expecting anything in return are more successful in the long run. Google Teams
Google saw this too. In their recent study, through rigorous analysis and data mining of their own work teams, they came up with the same "surprising" results — who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions. (Rozovsky, 2016). Then in a list complied in Chapter 2 Teamwork, they referred directly to Edmonson's psychological safety as the single most important dynamic for a successful team. Google's confirmation continues to underscore the importance of communication and trust for the modern, creative team, with articles like "What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect
" in The New York Times
attracting attention with an mainstream audience. MIT's similar data-driven approach is even more explicit, with four out of the four recommendations being — "talk frequently, take equally, and talk informally, talk about something else other than work."