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Psychological safety key to high-performance teams
A top executive at Google gives the lowdown on building great workplaces
Gopi Kallayil, the Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing at Google, was recently in Chennai. Kallayil has been part of some of the search engine giant’s most talked about projects, including Google+, leading the marketing team for its advertising product AdWords, and its publisher-facing product AdSense.
In a freewheeling interview to this daily, Kallayil shared his perspectives on the traits that make a workplace great. He said, “The most important thing is to have a sense of psychological safety. If you lead a team, its members need to have this sense of safety. It means you (an employee) can be yourself. You can show up exactly as you are. You can take risks and you can fail. You can speak your mind and you will be heard, respected and validated. If you create those conditions, your team will be a high-performance team. This is not an idealistic vision. It has been thoroughly tested and proven in environments within Google.
We have observed high performing teams and not-so-high performing teams. The differentiator is that the former creates conditions for psychological safety.”
A renowned public speaker, Kallayil is also a strong believer in the powers of yoga and meditation, which he says has impacted his work life in profound ways. He explained his faith as, “You get rattled many times because your life does not follow a linear path. But yoga and meditation are grounding practices that keep me physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. It has helped me self-regulate my emotional states. It’s helped me deal with the ups and downs of life. It’s also helped me establish a better emotional connection with the people around me.
If I have a complex problem, there’s no way I can rationally find my way to a solution. But there is a subconscious process that can be quite powerful. Mediation and yoga are the pathways that open the door to accessing that intelligence that’s inside me.”
In his bestselling self-help book, The Internet to the Inner-net, Kallayil has spoken about finding a balance, while meeting the demands of high-pressure jobs in the modern workplace. He said, “I do not divide my life as in – here’s work and here’s life. You need to have a holistic view of your life and it is up to you to manage it. The same 24 hours are available to every single human being in the world. It’s very egalitarian – you could be the President of a country, or a monk in a monastery. It’s a question of how you choose what to do with that time. I say yes to a few things that are important to me and no to everything else that is distracting. Then, I let go of a lot of things. If I do three or four things that are most important to me, I can make my peace with the rest.”
Kallayil, who is a triathlete, global traveller and proponent of the arts (he has his own band called Kirtan Lounge) has his finger on the pulse of technologies where he sees great promise in the future.
“The few big areas that I am keen on are artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality and advances in biological/life sciences driven by huge amounts of data and technology being available to us. India and many parts of the world are showing huge promise in these areas. India, with its population of 1.2 bn people, can offer the world millions of talented professionals, just by normal distribution laws,” he said.
He added, “Some great opportunities for Indian industries exist in driving fundamental innovation themselves as opposed to being service providers. That’s what a large segment of the industry is known for – being IT service providers. The talent pool and opportunities are there. Think beyond that – as in can you drive original, fundamental innovation in products and services? That is how you will see some great things happening in the future.”