Science of Productivity: 2 Ways to Boost Psychological Safety

Science of Productivity Ep 013: Two Ways to Boost Psychological Safety

December 7, 2020

Google’s extensive research on what distinguishes its most successful teams (called Project Aristotle) identified psychological safety as the number one predictor of team effectiveness. New research from outside of Google shows two subtle, but significant ways team leaders and even team members can affect this driver of team performance. Watch the video below or read the transcript to find out how this works.

The Science of Productivity segment brings you scientific insights you can trust into how to accomplish your goals faster. It is part of the Anything But Idle productivity news podcast.

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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Welcome to the Science of Productivity segment. In this segment, I bring you to a new piece of research on how to accomplish your goals faster. During this week’s segments, I want to share research on how leaders can improve team performance.

Google’s Project Aristotle came out with the shocking insight several years ago that psychological safety – the comfort in showing one’s self transparently without fear of consequences – was the number one predictor of strong teams. While there are many small and largely intuitive ways to increase psychological safety, new research shows two specific practices that increase psychological safety and team performance.

The first has to do with where the most senior people on the team look. During team meetings, people spend most of the time looking at the most senior people. However, across two studies, researchers found that if the leaders increased visual attention toward low-status members in the group, the team experienced improved group information elaboration and improved group performance in a collective decision-making task. While this can be hard on Zoom, if you’re a leader, just looking more at the most junior team members can change psychological safety.

Other research found that what psychologists call “social worth affirmation” improved virtual team’s sharing of information. People often skip sharing because they worry that what they share will lead others to think less of them or even reject them. If leaders can give team members confidence that they belong outside of team meetings, then they’ll feel more comfortable sharing in meetings.

Seamless information sharing and hearing a diversity of opinions are key to high-performing teams. To increase in these areas, leaders can develop 2 simple habits: look at their more junior team members more during team meetings and affirm their worth, value, and acceptance outside of team meetings.

Thanks for listening to this week’s Science of Productivity segment.


The Impact of Leader Eye Gaze on Disparity in Member Influence: Implications for Process and Performance in Diverse Groups.” Shim, So-Hyeon, et al. Academy of Management Journal (Aug 2020).

Seeing Oneself as a Valued Contributor: Social Worth Affirmation Improves Team Information Sharing.” Cunningham, Julie Lee, et al. Academy of Management Journal (Aug 2020).