Google has just discovered that the key to good teamwork is being nice. They spent years figuring out that the secret to a good working environment and high performing teams is to be nice. Wow! What an interesting, although obvious in a way, discovery.
In the conservation sector we are mainly made up of scientists. Scientists normally on the ‘thinking’ preference of the Myers-Briggs personality types. As a thinker and scientist I have loved learning about the science of personality types, team-working, leadership, etc. There is indeed a science to working better, more efficiently, and improved team-work. I love this – I love that we can learn to work better, to work more efficiently as a team, and ultimately have a bigger impact in nature conservation. However, I’ve also been told that I am too kind and too nice in my profession. This has puzzled me. Interestingly, it has been men who have told me that. Just saying! Do we have to be unkind to be professional? Is it a prerequisite to a promotion? And is this the best way to build a team? And an efficient and impactful conservation organisation?
So the recent revelations from Google’s Project Aristotle piqued my interest. In 2012, the company embarked on an initiative to study hundreds of Google’s teams and figure out the qualities of the best teams. After years of detailed research and head-scratching, they were surprised to find that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.
What is psychological safety? It has been defined as ‘feeling able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career’. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. In these teams everybody believes that it’s okay to speak up with concerns, questions, ideas, and mistakes. Amy Edmondson has a great TEDx talk on it. Most scientists shy away from emotional conversations. However, in the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.
So how do we build psychological safety in our teams?
As women working in nature conservation, we have the unique opportunity to bring our feminine attributes to the workplace. To bring kindness to the workplace and not feel like it’s unimportant because it’s not professional, or scientific, or whatever somebody else has told us. It’s great that we now have hard science and fact to back us up.
Women excel at nurturing competencies such as developing others, inspiring and motivating others, relationship building, collaboration and teamwork. However, we also excel at taking initiative, displaying integrity and honesty, and driving for results. As women, I believe we are uniquely skilled at creating psychologically safe teams and making kindness a core trait of the workplace. This will not only create happy and more efficient teams, but also increase our impact in nature conservation. And this is a critical need at this time of unprecedented biodiversity loss and degradation.
“The simplest acts of kindness are far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer” – Mahatma Gandhi
Photo courtesy of Mark Leslie
We Are All Wonder Women is an international movement for female conservation professionals to be inspired, connected, and empowered to create an authentic, fulfilling and happy career.