Psychological Safety: Improv Team Building in Sync with Google Finding

Psychological Safety: Improv Team Building in Sync with Google Finding

We are ONE team and we need all to support and contribute to succeed.

I was watching CNN for the latest political and world news in order to be knowledgeable for upcoming comedy show. I love humor based on the struggles our world faces. For me, and many audience members, it is therapy. This is how I deal with Donald Trump and the rest of the world that often appears to be spiraling into a dark abyss. Comedy allows me to remain an optimist.

Watching Fareed Zakaria GPS, I stumbled across findings of a 4-year Google Study into what makes a good team. The segment highlighted research that Julia Rozovsky and Google has conducted called Project Aristotle and profiled in Charles Duhigg’s book Smarter, Faster, Better.

As they discussed the concept of “Psychological Safety” my mind immediately jumped to our own work with Corporate Teams.

As Julia Rozovsky reports, the actual members on the team mean little to overall productivity. There was no formula for a certain type of skill sets or personalities. The key to a successful team was Psychological Safety.



Rule #1 in Improv is “YES! And…” This governs everything we do. We strive to create a safe supportive environment so that all team members feel free to contribute.

When I teach team building workshops I say, “My rule #1 is to have fun, but never at anyone else’s expense.” I want my students to have fun and forget about ego and insecurity. In Improv it amazes me, and many of my clients, how quickly kids, teens and adults thrive in my classes the second walls of fear and judgement drop. Once a student let’s go, they start having fun, and creativity prospers.

Imagine a work group where every member felt comfortable to share. Every idea is a good idea. Maybe some ideas don’t make it past an initial discussion, but everyone feels their self worth matters tot he team. And while sifting through less than great ideas, amazing ideas present themselves and are fostered by a supportive team.

With our team building, laughter and fun are key. What can laughter do?

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increase vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood
  • Give a workout to the diaphragm and abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles
  • Reduce certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline
  • Increase the response of tumor- and disease-killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells
  • Defend against respiratory infections–reducing the frequency of colds–by immunoglobulon in saliva.
  • Increase memory and learning; in a study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, humor during instruction led to increased test scores.
  • Improve alertness, creativity, and memory

So we start with FUN! As we go deeper into “YES! And…” we learn Improv becomes a series of choices. Every scene and story starts with an IDEA.  We say “YES” to the first idea, then, as a team, we build on that idea with more ideas. Each CHOICE supports the previous choices and ideas.


In order to create psychological safety, the team leader has to lead. Sounds crazy, no?

A Team Leader needs to foster psychological safety. The manager needs to be approachable and open minded.

On the Fareed Zakaria show, Julia Rozovsky and Charles Duhigg discussed Lorne Michaels, famed executive producer of Saturday Night Live. At weekly writers and planning meetings, if Lorne sees a team member disconnected or distracted, he will stop the meeting to discuss “What’s Up?” Every member of the team is important. If a member is a perceived “weak link” the focus is on making that individual feel a part of the team. That individual nor their ideas are not ignored. Instead they receive more focus and positive reinforcement.

We teach managers how to use our Improv Games to build a stronger team. Many of our warm-up games can be used in meetings. Start a productivity meeting with ZIP ZAP ZUP. Laugh together, while connecting via non verbal eye contact and body language while screaming those three simple words. The blood gets flowing and the team is ready to rock, together. Encourage – as we do in our workshop – for all to participate. I will say…

“If you are having a bad day or just struggling to start, take some energy from the circle. If you have lots to give, share it with the circle. We are ONE team and we need all to support and contribute to succeed.”

Google has been famous for years as a place that creates fun work environments. Employees have far more than a cafeteria and a gym to de-stress. Many companies have adopted the concept of having bright colors, toys and games all around the work space.

When you approach the most serious tasks with open minds, the ideas will flow. A team leader must create the environment of psychological safety, and teach the team how to foster in this environment. Improv can be a very powerful tool to make this happen.


Imagine working in a school where every teacher, student and staff member felt comfortable to share. How quickly would problems dissipate because the entire team.

I believe “YES! And…” help eliminate the Bully epidemic. Overcoming insecurity addresses both the factors that create Bullies and Victims. While victims retreat within due to fears, bullies overcompensate and lash out. Both students are scared.

But Improv helps eliminate many basic fears. We create self worth and self respect. We develop respect for others. We build self confidence. While having fun we over come fears of speaking in public.

Humor and creativity work in similar ways, says humor guru William Fry, M.D., of Stanford University–by creating relationships between two disconnected items, you engage the whole brain.

Improv teaches critical thinking. We focus on Cultural Arts, Language Arts and Character Building, but truly these skills will help create better students – and teachers – ion all subjects.

Students and teachers that lack fear of engagement will thrive. They will be more focused in class and team meetings. Play ZIP ZAP ZUP before a big test, get the blood flowing, reduce some stress, and then see how much better test score rise.


In children social play is critical to the development of social skills and emotional intelligence. Restricted play results in deficient social skills which can lead to life-long physical, mental, emotional and social problems. Laughter promotes childlike playful behavior. New research shows that playful adults continue to learn social skills and improve their emotional intelligence. Learning requires that one lower what linguists call the “affective barrier.” You can’t be uptight and learn much. You have to ease up and laugh to create.


Email me ( today to find out more about our Corporate Team Building, College Leadership Training and K-12 Outreach Programs. We host at our Times Square New York location and send programs nationwide. We have worked with Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, AMEX, US Medicaid, Twitter, Louis Vuitton, Master Card, Bank of America BAML, Kraft, GM, and 100s of smaller firms as well as 1000s of K-12 schools and colleges.


Google ‘Project Aristotle’ pioneering the way

Sun, 17 Apr 2016

Google has been studying teams and team building. The importance is the ‘psychology’ of safety on the team. Google ‘Project Aristotle’ pioneering the way. Charles Duhigg, has studied many teams to figure out how to make the perfect team.

The five keys to a successful Google team


“We were dead wrong. Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions. So much for that magical algorithm. We learned that there are five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google:”

  1. Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
  3. Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?


Psychological Safety is not a brand new topic.

The findings echo Stephen Covey’s influential 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Members of productive teams take the effort to understand each other, find a way to relate to each other, and then try to make themselves understood.

Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson explored the concept a 1999 study, which concluded that “psychological safety” boosted performance in teams.

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