High Performing Teams unleashed: OKRs + Psychological Safety, an undeniable link?

For all organisations, setting and achieving objectives is a cornerstone of success. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) have gained significant popularity as a goal-setting framework, empowering teams to aim high and reach their targets. But what’s the secret sauce that links the achievement of OKRs with optimal performance? The answer could be psychological safety – a crucial yet often underestimated factor in the success equation. Google’s Project Aristotle, an in-depth study on team performance, shed light on the profound connection between psychological safety and high-performing teams, revealing invaluable insights for organisations striving to excel.

Before we delve into the relationship between OKRs and psychological safety, let’s briefly define these terms:
OKRs are a goal-setting framework that involves setting clear objectives and measurable outcome-based key results to track progress. This method allows teams to align their efforts and ensure everyone is working toward the same mission.
Psychological Safety refers to the belief that one can voice their thoughts, ideas and concerns without fear of punishment or humiliation. It’s the foundation upon which effective communication and collaboration are built. When team members feel psychologically safe, they’re more likely to take risks, share innovative ideas and engage in constructive discussions.

The Link Between OKRs and Psychological Safety
Now, let’s explore how psychological safety can significantly contribute to the successful achievement of OKRs:

Open Communication: Achieving OKRs requires clear communication among team members. When psychological safety is present, individuals are more willing to share progress updates (importantly including lack of progress), seek help when needed and provide feedback. This transparency ensures that the whole team knows the current state of OKRs and can offer support where needed and make any necessary adjustments to reach their goals.

Learning from Failure: OKRs often involve stretch goals with ambitious targets that sometimes might not be met. In a psychologically safe environment, team members are more likely to view these setbacks as opportunities for learning and improvement, rather than as a personal failure. This mindset shift is critical for resilience and adaptability.

Innovation and Creativity: To set and achieve ambitious OKRs, teams need to think outside the box. Psychological safety fosters a culture of creativity and innovation, where team members are comfortable sharing their unique ideas without the fear of criticism. This can lead to breakthrough solutions and new approaches.

Accountability: Psychological safety doesn’t mean there is a lack of accountability. In fact, it promotes a sense of shared responsibility within the team as each Key Result has an owner who takes responsibility for the progress of their Key Result throughout the period and co-ordinates the necessary activity and handles any obstacles to ensure success. In turn, the Objective owner takes responsibility to always know the status of their contributing Key Results. When team members trust and know that their colleagues are supportive, they are more likely to take ownership of their contribution to OKRs.

Cultivating Psychological Safety
To enhance the link between OKRs and psychological safety, organizations can take several steps:

  • Encourage open dialogue and active listening.
  • Lead by example by demonstrating vulnerability and a willingness to admit mistakes.
  • Recognise and reward teamwork and collaboration.
  • Invest in training and resources to build emotional intelligence and communication skills.

It feels the connection between OKRs and psychological safety is undeniable. When individuals feel safe to express themselves and take calculated risks, teams can unleash their full potential and not only set, but reach ambitious OKRs. It’s not just about setting goals; it’s about fostering a culture where every team member thrives and contributes to their own, their team’s and their organisation’s success.