I’m Ready for my Close Up Or Observing Psychological Safety in a Great Team in the Strangest Place

One of my favourite clients recently asked if I would take part in some filming, talking about innovation coaching for their new website. I’ve not really done much filming before so the challenge and the opportunity to leave the house meant I was more than happy to oblige. I set off for London fully expecting to be sat in a small office talking into an iPhone on a tripod for ten minutes. Arriving at the address in East London, it’s a very cool warehouse conversion; the door opens and I see lots of people running around looking very busy with complicated looking cameras and lighting rigs. When the first words I hear are, “Can we get Kate into hair and make-up!” I’m already feeling that I’ve really misjudged this.

I’m sat in the make-up chair having a bit of a surreal ‘Kate Kardashian’ moment, my nervousness increases when the hairdresser shouts, ”How do you want Kate’s hair? Shall I make it a bit more conservative?” Visions of Margaret Thatcher’s blow dry flash through my mind when the calm voice of the Director shouts back, “I want Kate’s hair exactly as Kate wants it.” I breathe a sigh of relief and mutter something about how I like my hair a bit messy, like I just got up.

I leave the calm of the make-up room and walk into the organised chaos of the main shoot. I’m immediately fascinated by the challenge of bringing together this disparate group of skilled freelancers into a high performing team by uniting them around a common purpose, i.e. to deliver great content for one client.

Google’s research work on ‘Project Aristotle’ concluded that the number one factor in determining a high performing team is high levels of psychological safety, where psychological safety is a ‘sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up’. This fundamentally allows us to be ourselves and take risks. As I observe the shoot in progress, I notice the psychological safety levels are high.

The first thing I notice is that everyone knows their role and at the right time they can step forward and can take total control of the shoot. So when the sound guy shouts “Stop!” as he can hear a plane is flying overhead, we all stop. No one argues, he is totally trusted to make that call.

The second thing I notice is that everyone is listened to and is confident to speak up. As I’m writing on a pretend whiteboard the make-up artist mentions to the Director that the board is wobbling. He doesn’t dismiss her comment, he thanks her for noticing but then shows her how it doesn’t show up on camera so it doesn’t matter. The Producer and Director are discussing the colour of the mug I’m pretending to drink out of – she thinks grey ceramic, but he like me is drawn to the pale pink enamel. He doesn’t dismiss her suggestion but actively listens and says, “Let’s try them both and see what looks best on camera.” I’m disappointed the grey ceramic wins.

Feedback is asked for constantly and shared quickly and positively across the team. It’s getting late and the shadows are starting to effect our lighting. When a light is positioned outdoors to shine into the studio window the Director is constantly giving feedback to the lighting guy until its perfect. I’m still very nervous and it turns out that reading from an autocue is not as easy as I thought, but I’m constantly receiving positive feedback despite the many takes. At one point I really mess up and can’t even pronounce the clients name properly, but I feel safe enough to laugh out loud and positive enough to try again.

We are now seriously behind schedule though everyone remains calm and respectful of each other. Everybody seems incredibly polite, I hear lots of asks for help and active collaboration – ”What do you think about this backdrop?”, ”Can you help me lift this?” There are lots of ’thank yous’ and praise even for the smallest thing – ”That’s looking really good now.”, “Great work.” There is a lot of smiling and positive emotion in the air and I find myself getting swept away. I’m already running late for my dinner date across the other side of the country but of course I’ll stay for one more take when asked. How could I let these people down?

We finally wrap for the day, there’s clapping, whooping, fist bumps and a feeling we just might have created something magic. It was a fascinating experience for me seeing how psychological safety is so important for all high performing teams, not just innovation teams. I learnt a lot about leadership and teamwork in those few hours but l also learnt a newfound respect for Fiona Bruce and let just say I’m not going to be reading the 10 o’clock news anytime soon.

If you are interested in building psychological safety in high performing teams then you might be interested in Project Aristotle - what Google learnt from building high performance teams

High Performance Podcast - interviews with high performers from the business and sport world sharing their experiences and learnings


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