Here’s a harsh reality of coaching sports — the quality of your team defines who YOU are as a coach.
Lousy team = lousy coach
Good team = good coach
Great team = great coach
Like it or not, that’s the standard we coaches are held too.
Teams Are the Currency
It’s a safe (and true) statement that great teams make our World go round.
And it’s also a safe statement that coaches are starving to know HOW to make a great team.
Bury your head into the academic literature about teams. A trend about great teams appears — there’s NO consensus about what makes a great team. Study after study report different, and often conflicting, results:
- it’s the people
- no, it’s their education
- no, it’s the leader
- no, it’s the location
- no, it’s team cohesion
- no, it’s the environment
The lists goes on and on about what has been studied and what makes a great team. As I noted, there’s no agreement.
However … one factor has emerged specific to what great teams have. They have group norms. Group norms are where team members willingly give up a measure of control to their teammates, for the betterment of the team.
There are bad group norms (we always haze our freshmen) and there are good ones (we always help each other study).
Of all the possible norms a team can have, one particular group norm exists in great teams. It’s called psychological safety. And to be a successful coach you better have it on your team.
The Superpower of Psychological Safety
You’ve heard of Google, right? Well, the folks at Google wanted to know how to make great teams — because they rely on teams.
So they created Project Aristotle. A team of Google employees was charged to learn how great teams function and if you can create them.
They spent thousands of hours reviewing literature, interviewing Google employees, looking at Google teams and questioning Google leaders.
What they found was not what they expected. It wasn’t WHO was on the team that made it great, instead it was HOW the team worked — specifically how safe (psychologically) each member felt.
A Safe Place To Risk It
Charles Duhigg is an exceptional writer. He writes about great teams in his new book, Smarter Faster Better.
He goes into detail about Google’s research and research conducted at other places such at Harvard.
And how they determined that psychological safety (the shared belief that the team is a safe place for interpersonal risk taking, and team members feel accepted and respected) is critical for great teams. In other words, team members can make mistakes, express opinions, be authentic.
Psychological safety is more important than talent. As Duhigg notes, “you can take a team of average performers and if you teach them to interact the right way they will do things no superstar could ever accomplish.”
Read that statement again Coach — that’s a superpower in the making.
Without psychological safety a great team won’t happen, and a good team will crash and burn. It’s that simple.
Creating Psychological Safety On Your Team
So how do you create the group norm of psychological safety on your team? Well, you CAN create it. And, there are actions you CAN take, such as:
- team leaders (coaches, captains, etc.) should model the correct behavior (for instance, a leader should not interrupt a team member who is talking, because that establishes an “interrupting group norm.”)
- team leaders should admit if they don’t know something
- team leaders should give people who are upset the opportunity to express themselves, and team members should respond to them in non-judgmental ways
- everyone should feel they can speak up, and members should feel they have equal voices
- members need to show sensitivity to how other members feel
The actions of team leaders are important to developing psychological safety — and so are the team members.
Keep this in mind as you move ahead in your coaching — group norms are critical to building a great team, and the most important group norm is psychological safety. Ignore it at your own risk — actually … at your team’s risk.
You Can Learn More
- get Duhigg’s book here, or his audio book here
- What Google Learned From It’s Quest To Build The Perfect Team – Charles Duhigg
- Build Your Team (yup) by me
Have thoughts on this superpower you care to share? If so, pop them in the comments, or send me an email. It’s a safe place to let your opinion fly!