Some wards are better than others.

Nurses find themselves moved from ward to ward to fill gaps.

Along the way it is not hard to observe that some are better to work in than others.

What is the secret ingredient that makes one ward better than that other one you were in last week?

It turns out that it may be as simple as two behaviours.

Any group over time develops collective norms about appropriate behaviours.

These are group norms.

Norms are the traditions, behavioural standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function.

Group norms play a critical role in shaping the emotional experience of participating in a team.

Norms determine whether we feel safe or threatened, enervated or excited, motivated or discouraged, by our team mates.

Pulitzer Prize winning author, Charles Duhigg in his book Smarter Faster Better cites a ward with a strong team that had far more errors than a similar ward with a weaker functioning team.

What made the team strong was that nurses felt more comfortable reporting their mistakes.

The ward norm was that nurses were not punished for a misstep.

Nurses helped each other and check each other.

As Duhigg writes – Enthusiasm and loyalty are norms that are admirable.

But they are not equal in effectiveness.

Enthusiastic norms make teams better.

Loyalty is less effective.

The behaviour that makes an effective team is where a sense of togetherness occurs and people are encouraged to take a chance.

This is known as psychological safety.

Psychological safety is the shared belief held by team members that the group is a safe place for taking risks.

No idea is too stupid to be rejected outright.

There is a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up.

The team climate has interpersonal trust and mutual respect, in which people are comfortable being themselves.

Google investigated group norms for their human resources division about what made people psychologically safe.

They use big data to work out what actions are most effective to create an environment in which people feel psychologically safe.

Google found that groups need to allow others to fail without repercussions, respecting divergent opinions, feeling free to question others’ choices, and trusting that people aren’t trying to undermine you.

Good teams succeed not because of the innate qualities of team members but because of how they treat one another.

You may have a team of really smart people but they will be less effective than a team with less smart people.

It is norms, not the people, that make teams smart.

The two behaviours that all good teams shared were

  1. All members of the team spoke in roughly the same proportion of time.
  2. Members have high average social sensitivity.

Social sensitivity is where members in a group were skilled at intuiting how members felt based on their tone of voice, how people held themselves, and the expressions on their faces.

The head of Google HR said

“We think we need superstars. But that’s not what our research found. You can take a team of average performers, and if you teach them to interact in the right way, they’ll do things no superstar could ever accomplish.”

Google discovered that it does not matter about the make up of the team, or where they are located.

A team can function at a high level with the two behaviours.

What matters is whether each member has a voice and social sensitivity

So the key norms to success in teams are

  • believe your work is important.
  • feel work is personally meaningful.
  • have clear goals and defined roles.
  • need to know that the team can depend on one another.
  • psychological safety.

The route to psychological safety begins with the team leader.

The role of the team leader is

  1. Not interrupt teammates during conversations.
  2. Demonstrate that they are listening by summarising what people say after they say it.
  3. Admit what they don’t know.
  4. Not end a meeting till all team members have spoken at least once
  5. Encourage people who are upset to express their frustrations.
  6. Encourage team mates to respond in non-judgemental ways.
  7. Call out inter-group conflicts and resolve them through open discussion

It may seem that psychological safety may be less efficient in the short term.

But it is more productive over time.

That is the why nurses can experience large difference between wards – psychological safety.

To learn more about psychological safety,

Chapter 2. Better Faster Stronger by Charles Duhigg.

What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.