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What kinds of teams have you been a part of? Maybe a sports team or theatre group, a dreaded school or work project group, or an implementation team to bring a new technology at work. Many can attest that working with teams can go really well – but more likely than not, when asked about working as a group, people become disgruntled and have negative stories to share. Why is that?

A few years ago, a team of Google workers set out to discover exactly what makes a team work well together. This became known as Project Aristotle, led by a manager from Google’s People Analytics division, Abeer Dubey.

“‘We looked at 180 teams from all over the company,’’ Dubey said. ‘‘We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’

In other words, a group working on a project could be made up of the six smartest, most successful workers the industry has to offer, but that alone did not mean that the group effort would be a success. After much research, surveying and analysis, the Project Aristotle team found that “psychological safety” was the number one component of a successful team – and significantly beat out other characteristics.

But what exactly is psychological safety? According to the Project Aristotle results, psychological safety basically means that every team member feels comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions – and that everyone gets a chance to talk for about the same amount of time in group meetings. This is not to say that there is a time limit or select time for each person to talk, but that organically, each person genuinely wants to hear from others in the group. Each team member should feel respected and confident enough to share any thoughts, without the fear of being shot down or laughed at by others.

Psychological safety can encompass many qualities one might think of when describing an effective team.

Open, honest communication

Being able to share honest thoughts and opinions with team members is a huge portion of a successful project. Additionally, this open communication includes receiving honest feedback and quick responses. No one should have to hunt someone down because they did not reply to a message about scheduling a meeting or asking for a particular document.


A diverse team includes people with different education and training, life experiences, and backgrounds. A successful group also includes varied personalities and strengths – introverts/extraverts, analytical minds, and great public speakers. Ideally, each team member brings his or her unique skills to the table and the combination creates a great team.

Passion for the goal/cause

Each team member should have a full understanding of the team’s purpose and strategy. Hopefully the entire team has a genuine interest in the project at hand, or at the very least a passion for accomplishing the goals in the best way.


Perhaps the most important component of psychological safety outlined by Project Aristotle is team members who show empathy. Most people spend more time with coworkers than anyone else, even family and close friends. Feeling comfortable sharing things with coworkers, besides just project details and work information, helps develop trust and understanding.

Project Aristotle’s goal was to find out the components of a successful team so a dysfunctional or ineffective group combination was less likely to happen. While it is impossible to totally eliminate teams that do not work well together, learning about psychological safety and how to educate teams about this very important characteristic is vital to ensuring success.