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Whatever our work, we spend an awful lot of time there.  Here at Q4 we love to talk about passion at work (since we support enjoying work!) and bringing our whole selves into the workplace. Yet what does that actually look like, particularly since we’re interacting with people all day?

Well, it can look like many things, but one that’s essential involves the quality of interactions we have with one another at work. In groups. On teams.

If you’ve ever been thrown onto a project team, or been part of a work group, you know that your energies and engagement can vary depending upon the group or team you’re on and what you’re collectively up to just then.

New research reveals surprising truths about why some work groups thrive and others falter. Charles Duhigg, a journalist and author of The Power of Habit, just wrote an excellent New York Times Magazine article where he reveals the results that Google found in the quest to build a perfect team.  Particularly, what’s distinctive between average teams and top performing teams.

Results of this extensive research?  Two key results stand out.

First, as long as everyone got a chance to talk,to contribute, the team did well regardless of the type of team or the project they were working on.  However, if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence of the team declined.  Having a voice in the conversation and knowing teammates are actively listening proved essential.

Second, and clearly foundational to creating excellent, high performing teams, was the discovery of what Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’

Further, says Edmondson, such psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

Yet just how to create such a safe, rich environment wasn’t clear.

Until Matt Sakaguchi approached the Project Aristotle researchers at Google requesting help with his team, a team struggling together.

They shared their research, a survey was created and sent to his team, responses received. Bottom line? Members of his team expressed confusion about the role of their team in the bigger Google picture, and they weren’t at all sure if they were making an impact. In short, it wasn’t ok (read: unsafe) to offer their confusion, discontent, frustration to the team.

That’s when the shift came about.

In a meeting with his team, Sakaguchi took at risk. He revealed a personal, quite serious, health concern: he had Stage 4 cancer.  A rich discussion ensued as team members began to offer their own personal stories and concerns. Concerns about life, work, relationships. Concerns that involved tender emotions and messiness.

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. ~~ Seneca

This openness shifted his team, and and insights learned further enhanced teams across Google. Seems that those behaviors that create psychological safety– taking turns speaking, listening and empathy–are essential in connecting with one another as human beings who want to make an impact, a contribution.

Makes sense. Practical sense. Risk-worthy sense.

Sharing what matters most, your concerns and ultimately your passion, is critical to working with others. And it’s even more critical for those of us who want to make an impact at work.