Google found that psychological safety is key to team productivity. We found that self-compassion is behind psychological safety.

Nearly everyone has been a member of a team before. Work on enough different teams, and it becomes very easy to recognize the difference between teams that are productive… and those that aren’t. Good teamwork is all about getting the outcome of the team to be greater than the sum of its parts. Take a moment to reflect on which of your teams have been the most productive. Why were the outcomes so good? And, more importantly, how did you feel as part of a team that gets excellent results?


Change driver and Head coach at Ericsson R&D

Change driver and Head coach at Ericsson R&D

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Based on my experience being on many different teams throughout the years, so-called “soft issues” are very important. Trusting others in the team, daring to be yourself and showing your weaknesses are important factors for me. When soft issues are addressed, one can feel accepted, appreciated, and comfortable trying new things without fear of being judged if you fail. Also, working in a productive team enables feelings of accomplishment and the appreciation of meaningful work.

Psychological safety is key

You might have heard about Google’s study about its most productive teams. One of the remarkable findings in this study was that the most important factor for a productive team is psychological safety.

So why is psychological safety so important?  Research shows that a climate of psychological safety supports team learning (Edmondson, 1999), fosters creativity (Karak & Carmeli, 2009) and empowers employees to voice concerns (Walumbwa & Schaubroeck, 2009).

How does self-compassion fit into the team picture?

At Ericsson Finland R&D, we’ve recently conducted research in co-operation with the CoPassion research project run by Helsinki University, Hanken School of Economics and Standford University. As part of the CoPassion project, team psychological safety is defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking (Edmondson, 1999). It means that you can dare to show your vulnerability, to try and fail, and to be your authentic yourself.

The CoPassion program studies and develops the revolutionary power of compassion in working life. Compassion, of course, is taking the feelings and needs of other people seriously, and working for the betterment of others. At its best, it is also co-passion, which is sharing the joy and enthusiasm of others.

At Ericsson Finland R&D, CoPassion researchers have investigated the relation of mindfulness and self-compassion to the team climate in our R&D teams, and they’ve made remarkable findings.

Based on still unpublished research, they found that self-compassion has a strong relationship to team authenticity, team psychological safety and team trust. In addition, mindfulness has a strong relation to opportunity recognition, proactive behavior and autonomous choice. Scientific publication of this topic is under construction and will be published during the Autumn of 2018.

Digging deeper into the research, we find that self-compassion is one of the important factors behind psychological safety.

Since self-compassion is something we should nurture to increase our feeling of psychological safety, it’s worth asking: what exactly is self-compassion? According to Kristin Neff, the famous self-compassion researcher and professor: “Self-compassion is compassion turned inward, and refers to how we relate to ourselves in instances of perceived failure, inadequacy, or personal suffering.”

How is caring about yourself reflected around you?

I started this blog article writing about productive teams, and ended up writing about self-compassion. Why is that? It’s because human beings are shaped by the relationships we have with the people around us, as connection and relatedness are basic human needs. Research in social psychology shows that the way in which people perceive themselves has a powerful influence on how they perceive others, and that judgements of others are grounded in the self (Dunning, 2002).

You can improve your team’s climate and psychological safety by connecting to your own feelings and needs, being your own best friend during hard times, and understanding yourself compassionately. We at Ericsson Finland continue to explore this topic, and will offer the possibility of self-compassion training for our employees, to help them to create more psychological safety in their teams.

In closing, if you can only remember one sentence from this article, make it this one: “What we carry inside ourselves is what we reflect to others around us.”

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