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by Walt Frasier


In 2015, Google released the findings of Project Aristotle, its four year study into what makes a great team. They expected to find the perfect completed puzzle with each piece serving its function – techy plus artsy plus sales whiz plus service plus manager = the perfect team, right?


The number one determining factor behind team success turned out to be a simple concept called psychological safety. If everyone on that team feels safe to contribute, enjoys coming to work and is engaged in the success of the team, that team works.

psychological safety

Think Basketball! In 2018 Labron James, possibly one of the greatest players of all time, was not enough to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers all the way to the finish line, losing in the finals to the Warriors.

The Yankees won a lot of games with killer teams around the turn of the century, but then lost big when they traded for big name stars in the middle of the last decade.

Superstars do not make a team. Teams succeed when every one on that teams feels value.


The key to success, however,  is more than everyone just being nice. A great team needs to deliver results.

Some teams have neither safe spaces or drive. When I see the chart above, I think of Jon Lovitz in the movie, BIG. Jon’s character I think encapsulates a huge problem in work places around the world when he says “Hey, you’remaking us look bad.” We just do the bare minimums to meet quotas not get noticed. Too many just want to keep their job. They fear standing out because that might get them fired. The fear being the victim of office politics and bullies. They keep their head down. They have no stake in the game. They only feel safe when they hide in their corner or cubby hole, and they have zero drive or incentive to do better.

Jon Lovitz’s character is the epitome of THE APATHY ZONE.

Some offices are super fun to work but no one and nothing drives the team forward. They may get buy with status quo but their is probably zero growth and nothing exciting for the future.

This team is in the comfort zone.  It is similar to the Apathy Zone with a few more smiles. Casual Friday anyone?

The opposite is the HIGH ANXIETY ZONE. A lot of teams have that project manager that is so focused on results he/she forgets his team is human, not robots. The stress level is high. When things go south, heads roll. This team may have results but no one is having fun. FUN IS NOT NEEDED HERE. This leads to burn out and lots of illness. This inspires office politics of the worst kind.

But the team that finds balance between performance drive and psychological safety enters the LEARNING ZONE. In this pace of ultimate collaboration, every challenge is met as a possible. This team can do anything. Perhaps not now, but can figure it out, together.

Improv Comedy is the best way to find this perfect balance….


In Improv Comedy, “YES!” is all about accepting your colleagues and their contributions to the team.  “YES” is Psychological Safety! As we play Improv games we are all equals, regardless of age, experience, race, creed, personality etc.  We create a safe space and level playing field for all to play. We accept our colleagues 100% as is.  EVERYTHING they say and do. We do not judge. We do not fear.

“AND…” is all about contributing valuable work and information to the team. We are not going to let our colleagues do all the work by simply saying “YES!” We are going to take this to the next level by accepting our colleagues work and building upon with our own contributions, supporting everything that comes before our new addition.”AND…” is Performance Drive, coming  from within.

When the whole team embraces “YES! And…” we enter the learning zone together. The entire team is now personally engaged in the success of the team. This brings out the best in all of us. We leave ego and insecurity behind. We trust ourselves and our team. We now are hyper focused on team  success and its goals.  The entire team accepts and overcomes challenges together. The entire team wins.


First of all, how about starting the day, every day, with a 2-3 minute Improv warm-up game.  It’s 9am. Everyone meets in the conference room, puts their coffee down on the table, and then gets silly and laughs for a few moments to play PASS the FACE or WHOOSH (Take our workshops to learn these games first hand).  Give the team a quick run down on the day’s goals and focus and send focus off ready to rock. It is 9:10 and the teams is on fire.

Now it’s time for a big meeting to start a new project. The team needs ideas. AH HA. YES AND to the rescue. THEIR ARE NO BAD IDEAS at this stage.

Most teams will just say NO to most offers. Susan has an idea. In the past Susan was told NO. Eventually Susan heard NO so many times she stopped contributing ideas altogether.

But now let’s try YES! Susan has that same idea. Bob says, that is a different way fo thinking of the problem. let’s YES AND that. The team bounces around possible scenarios stemming form this Susan idea. That idea may still not get out of the conference room but at least now the idea had a shot, and more likely, the process of YES AND… will lead to an idea inspired by Susan’s starting point.

As this next TED TALK video demonstrates, when a team does not create a safe space, lives can be put in danger.

How many ideas are left on the floor of the conference room that could have saved a team,  a company from going out of business or a life?

Change course before it is too late!
Bring your team into the Learning Zone.

Creating a Safe Space for All

A quick word for team leaders. Before you write off certain folks, think to yourself. Have you truly created a safe space to work?

I say this because I have met folks that are not too happy with themselves, their work, their home life etc. I have worked with kids, teens and corporate teams.

I have met folks that have never truly felt safe in their own skin or environments. Home, School and now work all seemed like hostile worlds without escape.

In those situations folks have two choices – fight or flight. Both extremes destroy team. But before you throw away o potential gold star employee/team mate, take a step back.

While teaching high schools kids in late 2015, a particularly troubled group, I stopped and started talking about Psychological Safety. My goal was simply to move away from bully style jokes, making everyone uncomfortable. This lead to a deeper discussion and it turns out these kids (15-18yos) did not feel safe at home, school or work. They have never know psychological safety. They have never known mental relaxation. They lived in the anxiety zone 24/7, at times in fear of their lives, never mind traditional mental, emotional and physical abuse.

But their was a change. The last 15 minutes of the class the most hardened students cracked a smile. We all laughed. We all found a safe place in that moment. For the first time these students had a glimmer of hope for a better way. Sometimes all one needs is hope to survive the worst situations.


Perhaps an absolutely horrible example – think about Hunger Games.

Even a ruthless dictatorship under President Snow recognized the power of hope being just slightly more effective than fear.

I hope you inspire hope with far better intentions than the Capitol of Panem.