Teams, psychological safety, and Saturday Night Live | Charles Duhigg, The New York Times


[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi. My name is Charles Duhigg. I am a reporter and editor
at the “New York Times” and the author of
“The Power of Habit,” and more recently,
“Smarter, Faster, Better,” which is about the science
of productivity, and in part, looks at teams. And we’re going to be talking
for the next hour or so about teams. And before we do, I want
you to just take a moment and think back on the worst
team you have ever belonged to. Right? I’m sure everyone
has this one team. You see it on your calendar. You get that gut clench. You think to yourself, I cannot
spend another minute with these people. I hate them all. Visualize that team. Right? Some people are going like
this, yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that team. And then I also want you
to think of the best team– the best team you’ve ever been
a part of– one of those groups where everyone showed up and
it was just easy and seamless and you killed it. Now with those two in your
mind, imagine for a minute that it’s the 1970s. And you walk in to the–
actually pick up the thing. You walk into the writer’s
room of “Saturday Night Live.” It’s the first season of
“Saturday Night Live.” And this is what you see. In one corner you
see John Belushi, who looks like he’s passed
out, and in fact had set another castmate’s
house on fire the night before by falling
asleep with a lit joint that then set a bedspread on fire. In the other corner,
you have Al Franken– now an esteemed
member of the Senate– who is coked to the gills and
is bouncing off all the walls. And in between you have the
original cast and writers of “Saturday Night Live.” You have people like
[? James ?] O’Donoghue, who wrote a parody– a satire–
of JFK’s assassination two years after JFK
was assassinated. And when a secretary once
came up and told him in tears, Elvis just died, the first thing
he said was, smart career move. Next to him you have Anne Beatts
and next to her Marilyn Miller, two of the original writers
of “Saturday Night Live,” who hate each other, because Anne
Beatts had opined– somewhat inappropriately, I
think you’ll agree– that it was a good thing
Hitler had been there, otherwise they
wouldn’t have been able to find a
apartment in New York. And Marilyn Miller
told her that she thought that it was
inappropriate to make jokes about the Holocaust,
at which point Anne Beatts told her that
she should take a pole out of a certain part of her anatomy
and do something else with it, which I think is not
actually possible. And you’ve got a room
just like these people. And to add a little bit
more pressure onto it, every single time
one of them pitches a great skit, the only
way it gets on the show is because someone
else’s skit gets cut. They only have five or
six days every single week to come up with an
entirely new show that they have to produce
live that weekend, take 24 hours off, and then go
do the entire thing over again. In addition, most of
the people in the room have slept with each other
in the last three weeks. This is a recipe–
I think you’ll agree– for a disastrous team. Right? There is no way that
this group should be able to come together. And yet all of you know that
“Saturday Night Live” is not only a great first season, it’s
one of the most consistently successful television shows. In fact it’s so
successful that what happens in the writer’s
room is so good that they’re able to take out
all of the writers and repopulate the
cast and the writers and the crew every couple of years. And it still works. And what we’re going to be
talking about today– what the speakers are
going to be coming on to visit with you today are
going to be discussing– is why that happens. I got really interested
in the science of teams when I was writing this
book about productivity. And in fact, at this event
the last time they had it, I came out. And I learned about this thing
called Project Aristotle, which is that Google was trying to
figure out– by spending years and millions of dollars
studying its teams– how to build the perfect team. And the original hypothesis
was that the perfect team is made by putting the
right people together. But after collecting
all of their data and doing thousands
of interviews and looking at
hundreds of teams, they discovered that who
was on a team mattered much, much less than how a team
interacts– the group norms, the behaviors we’ve
been talking about, the unwritten rules of the
culture of that group– that has much more
influence than anything else on whether that
team is effective. In fact, the folks
here at Google– to summarize their work– found
that there were these five things in particular that
seemed to differentiate the best teams, the most effective
teams, from everyone else. We’re not going to
talk about all of them today, although a number
of them have come up. Instead what you’ll hear a
lot about during this session is psychological
safety– this sense that you can come into a room
and you can be your full self. You can take risks
and the consequences of taking that risk won’t be
held against you in the future. And what’s most
interesting to me is that we are predisposed to
think of psychological safety as something that emerges
in that best team that’s in your mind. Right? When we’re with friends
or we’re with people we feel comfortable with, it’s
easy to believe that everyone feels psychologically safe. But the question,
and the thing we’re going to talk about
today a little bit, is what about that worst team? What can we do to
that worst team? What can we do by taking
the same people on that team that you hate showing up to
meet with and change how they interact in a way that
creates psychological safety, and that produces this
fantastic television show? And so I want you to
hold that in your mind. And as you’re listening
to our speakers, think to yourself, if I take
the people from the worst team, and I shove them into the
culture of the best team, is there something about
these lessons that lets us make that jump over the chasm? And with that, let me
introduce Anita Woolley who will be talking about
some of the research about how this actually works. Thanks. [MUSIC PLAYING]