Creating a psychological safety net for your team

“Can you describe a time when you were on a team that was really successful?”

That’s more than just a leading question in a job interview. Answering that prompt can begin to give us clues into why some team experiences–and outcomes–are just better.

I bet you could probably list some of the characteristics that define the highest performing teams—things like goal focus, dependability, and complementary skills.

But what if the key to high team performance is something far more basic and subtle?

Newer research1 suggests that what distinguishes top teams is actually “psychological safety.” Said another way, we do our best work when we feel safe enough to take risks and contribute without holding back. And in a truly psychologically safe work climate, people aren’t just comfortable expressing themselves, they’re comfortable being themselves—complete with quirks and peccadillos. It’s also important to consider what we’re *not* doing on a team we deem safe. Harvard business professor Amy Edmondson describes psychologically safe teams as ones where “people are less likely to focus on self-protection.”

When we’re not constantly calculating whether we’ll lose face by taking a risk, we can more easily lean into our desire to engage with others and to learn. Research1 supports that a psychologically safe team leads to better overall engagement and an openness to learning. Indeed, the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles3.

So how could your team start to build more safety, interpersonally speaking?

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Stressed at Work? Is it your Business Chemistry?

Stress. It may be one of the most talked about workplace topics of our time. Enter “workplace stress” into a search engine and you’ll find thousands and thousands of articles outlining what’s stressful, why it’s stressful, how to cope, and the consequences if we don’t. Increasingly, stress at work is acknowledged as an engagement-sapper, a productivity-stealer, and a dangerous health risk. But is everyone really that stressed out all the time? Do some people experience the workplace as more stressful than others? What strategies do people most often use to cope? In the past year, Deloitte’s Greenhouse Experience Team has embarked on a large-scale study of professionals to find out more.  Today, we release the findings on Deloitte.com–Business Chemistry’s Stress Study.

Through an online survey we asked people a series of questions about their stress levels, how stressful they find various workplace situations to be, how effective they are under stress, and how often they use a variety of coping strategies.

In addition to answering questions about stress, all respondents completed the Business Chemistry® assessment, enabling us to compare their responses to the stress questions with their Business Chemistry type. We found statistically significant differences between Business Chemistry types in several areas.

This research is a powerful first step for teams looking to improve working relationships, and ultimately, team performance during times of stress.

Let us know more about your experience with stress at work and your thoughts about our study.  Comment here or share your thoughts on Twitter, @DrSuzBizChem #stressstudy. Also, don’t forget to share this with your team and colleagues!

Read more about the study and our findings on Deloitte.com

For tips on what to do about stress on your team read Business Chemistry Do’s and Don’ts During Times of Stress

View our webcast “Stressed at work? It might be your working style”

Read more about our methodology

Dr. Suz
Suzanne Vickberg, PhD (aka Dr. Suz)
Dr. Suz is the Greenhouse Team’s very own social-personality psychologist, which means she studies how people’s thoughts, behaviors and preferences are influenced by both who they are and the situations they’re in. She uses Business Chemistry to help teams explore how the mix of perspectives brought by their individual members influences their work together. Follow her on Twitter @DrSuzBizChem

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.

Copyright © 2016 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.

Hunching Pokémon Hunters

My family has been infected. By the Pokémon Go epidemic that is. Introduced to the app by a college-age neighbor, my twin 7-year-old sons came home with a sudden, unprecedented eagerness to join me on hikes and shopping trips (as long as I brought my phone, of course). Anything that would get them within range of their digital quarry. Overnight, my children became Pokémon hunters.

One trip to the mall and it quickly became clear that they weren’t the only ones smitten with this latest augmented reality phenomenon. All around me, people of all ages wandered trance-like through the parking lot staring at their phones, suddenly exclaiming when they spotted a Pokémon in their midst. This was clearly A Thing with universal appeal.

And yet…I couldn’t help but notice there were differences between these hunters, in spite of their common interest. Differences I suspected were tightly linked to their Business Chemistry types. So I decided to spend the weekend hunching these hunters and observing them in their (semi) natural environments to see how differences in style might be evident even in a shared mobile gaming experience. (Thanks to my friends and family for being unwitting participants in my research).

Of course I wasn’t able to conclude anything in a brief, unscientific weekend of observation, but I did develop some initial hypotheses. Here are my bets–what are yours?

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How to plan a meeting that people won’t dread—Part II

Planning a meeting that people won't dread—Part IIRole Plays. Skits. Improv. These words strike fear into my heart. I know these methods can be great ways to work through a tricky problem, and many people love the opportunity to actively engage with an idea or challenge by getting up and acting it out. Even I’ll admit that I love the fun and energy in the room when my colleagues perform (I have many talented and hilarious colleagues). But I’ll do just about anything to stay off the stage myself.

Last week I wrote about some ways that you can plan meetings and events that meet the needs of more Business Chemistry types more of the time. This week I’ll continue that theme, starting with a discussion of these anxiety-producing (for me) kinds of activities.

When quieter types hesitate to get involved we sometimes implore them to “get out of their comfort zone” and “stretch” This kind of encouragement can be helpful if someone just needs a little push to get there. However, for others, improv and role plays are too far from comfort, and if someone’s totally preoccupied by performance anxiety, they’re probably not focused on learning. On the flip-side, for others, sitting too long and listening or discussing is boring, boring, boring. And if someone is bored, they’re not learning much either. For many of these folks, the chance to use their creativity and acting chops keeps them interested.

A key here is to make it okay for people to participate in different ways. While some people can’t wait to get into the spotlight (ahem, Pioneers), others are more comfortable participating offstage, developing a script, suggesting an improv scenario, creating a prop, recording a video, cheering their colleagues on, or summarizing learning in a wrap-up conversation. So yes, let’s all stretch a little, but not so far that we pull any muscles.

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How to plan a meeting that people won’t dread

Planning a meeting that people won't dread My closest teammates sometimes tease me about the time they found me standing in a corner with my headphones on, while a sea of people socialized around me. We were two days into a three-day series of meetings with about 100 of our colleagues, and my extrovert side had totally given up the ghost. I’m a Guardian and a Dreamer (a combination of internally-focused types) who works primarily from home, and I’m not used to quite so much togetherness. You might wonder why I didn’t just take a little bit of alone time. The short answer is, I didn’t want to miss out on anything! What can I say, people are complicated.

A few weeks ago it was time again for these annual meetings, and I looked forward to the event with equal measures of excitement and dread. Among the many things our team does well is engage people, and I knew the event would be valuable and fun. But I also knew that sometimes I need a chance to disengage, or at least to engage differently. And that can be hard to do at these kinds of things. Which raises the question, how can you plan a meeting or event that meets the needs of everyone participating, when the needs of everyone aren’t the same? When people have conflicting needs, how do you appeal to all types without turning anyone off? And how can you do so while delivering an exceptional experience rather than one that feels watered down?

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Who are you when you’re stressed?

Who are you when you're stressed?Last week was really stressful for me. I’m in the midst of several writing projects at once, nothing I would recommend, and it seemed there was also a hurricane blowing, full of other responsibilities, inquiries, requests, and demands swirling around me. You probably know how that feels.

So what did I do? I hunkered down, and spent several hours organizing my calendar–obviously–one of the more Guardian-like tasks a person can engage in. Because that’s what I do when I’m stressed.

And how about you? When you’re stressed, what do you do? Do your typical behaviors intensify? Or do you tend to act a bit out of character? Do you think your Business Chemistry type changes? Or does it get more extreme? We’re often asked by our clients just these questions. So we set out to answer them.

We asked people to complete our Business Chemistry assessment while imagining they were under stress, and 111 people did just that. Specifically, we asked people to “respond to each item as if you’re in the midst of a very stressful time. You might think back to a specific stressful time you’ve actually experienced, imagine a stressful time, or just focus in on the feeling of being under stress in general.” We then compared people’s stressed results to their original Business Chemistry results, to see if they were different.

The majority of respondents (70 percent) indicated they had recalled a specific stressful time they’d actually experienced, while 23 percent thought about being under stress in general, and just 7 percent imagined a specific stressful experience. Most respondents indicated they were thinking about looming deadlines and time pressure, critical and high profile projects involving clients and/or leadership, the need for multi-tasking, and/or a heavy work-load. In other words, they were thinking about the typical day at work for most of us.

In short, we found no evidence that any of the Business Chemistry types intensify under stress, but we did find evidence of changes in people’s behaviors and preferences.

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How leaders achieve harmony in business

harmony in business

I recently saw a TED talk that fascinated me, Itay Talgam’s much-watched “Lead Like the Great Conductors”.1 During his talk, Talgam, a conductor and business consultant, expertly weaves the conductor-orchestra metaphor through a discussion of leadership as could be applied to any team. As a former orchestra flutist, what really struck me about this talk was that it’s a fantastic illustration of one of the main tenets of Business Chemistry, that each of us is a unique combination of all four types, and it’s our ability to flex between these styles that may be our greatest strength as leaders. Indeed, research shows that great leaders use a variety of styles, depending on the situation, to get results.2

Consider the responsibilities of a conductor: define the tone and set the tempo, unify 100 independent musicians while bringing out the best in each performer, provide real-time performance feedback, and create an experience for the audience. How do conductors achieve all this…without a saying a word? Talgam guides us through a tour of the leadership styles of some of the world’s greatest conductors, and explores the possible pitfalls of leaning too heavily on one style.

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Business Chemistry matters when change is afoot…

Chameloen.One of my favorite things about teaching Business Chemistry to teams is myth-busting. And one of the most common myths we need to bust is that Pioneers are “good” at change and no one else is. Now, it may be true that Pioneers are naturally more comfortable with change, or that they even relish it more than the other types. And it may also be that their adaptable natures make it a bit easier on them. But, thinking through the strengths and challenges of each type reveals that they all have something important to contribute in times of change, and also that they all may need a bit of help adjusting, in one way or another. So if you’ve got a big change coming, or you’re in the middle of one right now, keep the following in mind.
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When You’ve Got Tough Feedback to Give, Flex Your Style


An old maxim cautions: “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.” We live in a world where feedback is unavoidable. And for most of us who deliver feedback to others, our default tendency is to give praise or constructive criticism in the way we like to hear it.

The trouble is, taking a universal approach to communicating with others works to our detriment. When we use a “standard template” for conveying praise or corrective advice, we’re practically inviting misunderstandings and broken trust. Just imagine the aftermath of giving hard-hitting feedback–with little context–to your most sensitive but reliable worker. More than just hurt feelings, we can actually distract a person from our main message with an ill-chosen delivery!

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It’s a Trap! Avert decision-making biases with Business Chemistry


I recently wrote about how to recognize each of the Business Chemistry types, with their approach to decision-making being among the clues that can help.

Each of these is a reasonable way to approach decisions–there is no right way. And combining these approaches–making decisions in a diverse team–can be a great way to combat some of the cognitive biases, or decision-making traps, that sometimes lead us to make faulty decisions.

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