At least up until today, I used this blog to document technical stuff. But with May being Mental Health Awareness month, and with many of us spending most of our days at home amid the spread of COVID-19, I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health recently. I wanted to put together some of my thoughts, even if somewhat random, here.
Personally, I feel incredibly privileged. My family is healthy and safe and I work in a great supportive company. And yet, I feel like it’s hard to ignore the millions around me that have been directly or indirectly impacted by this new situation, not to mention the long term impact (which is still unknown, for the most part) on job markets and macroeconomics.
In 2012, Google embarked on an internal project code-named project Aristotle studying over 180 teams to figure out the answer to one key question: what makes teams successful? The study, which was published two years later, highlighted five factors common to effective team dynamics at Google. The first, and by far the most important factor according to this study, was psychological safety - a term first coined by Harvard scientist Amy Edmondson, and defined as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking”. Simply put, according to this Google research, the most successful teams are those where team members feel safe to take risks and be honest and vulnerable in front of each other without the fear of being embarrassed, or “wrong”. For completeness, the other four factors were dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact.
70 years back, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed his famous hierarchy of needs theory. The theory studies what motivates humans behavior, and highlights the things that are vital to our survival and defined as physiological needs (level 1), followed by security and safety needs (level 2), as the most basic necessities. In other words, without these foundational needs met, one could not strive towards any other layers associated with personal growth and reach his potential.
The conclusion, even if somewhat simplistic, is that with so many people concerned about their physiological and security needs as defined by Maslow, teams would also struggle to develop any form of psychological safety dynamic as defined in Google’s research. It’s time to step back and give ourselves a moment of care for our health, both physically and mentally. it’s going to be a long run.
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