Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #1, Psychological Safety

Google Studies High Performance Teams

In 2012, Google spent two years studying 180 different teams to figure out the recipe to high performing teams. They found five main ingredients – the first is something researchers call psychological safety.

Let’s take a few steps backwards, shall we? Over the past two decades, the amount of time that we’ve spent on collaborative and team-based activities at work has grown by more than 50%. Naturally, as one of the most forward-thinking companies in the world, Google has spent recent decades trying to figure out how they can maximize the productivity of their teams. After spending millions of dollars over years on initiatives that haven’t fully answered their question, they began Project Aristotle.

As a tribute to the man who once said that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Project Aristotle aimed to pinpoint the exact characteristics that separated the highest performing teams from the others. Before the project, executives at Google believed that building the best teams simply meant putting the best people together. Boy, did they underestimate the complexity of team building. The researchers at Project Aristotle found that what mattered wasn’t at all about who was on the team (successful teams varied in composition), but how they worked together. Specifically, they found five characteristics that defined how the best teams worked.

The first, and most important, characteristic that they identified was psychological safety, which essentially describes whether members of a team feel safe enough to take interpersonal risks. It’s about whether members of a team are confident that they won’t feel embarrassed or punished for making mistakes, and this matters especially for projects that rely on interdependence and are full of uncertainty (which, let’s be honest, is most projects nowadays).

Teams where members feel psychologically safe allow all members to speak and contribute to the discussion, and members are sensitive to each other’s moods. “Sounds a little too mushy for me,” you might be thinking…but here’s the thing: Project Aristotle found that these teams bring in more revenue, are rated twice as effective, and have members that are more likely to stay with the organization. It matters.

Think about it this way, most teams are formed in today’s organizations to tackle problems and challenges that individuals can’t take on by themselves. In order for teams to accomplish this task, members need to feel comfortable enough with each other to express their unique perspectives, share their concerns, and make full use their diverse skills. When members feel psychological safety, teams are more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas, and maximize the unique talents of each member of the team. Within these teams, the whole is unquestionably greater than the sum of the parts.

Now, the question you may be asking now is: how do we build psychologically safety? In her 2014 TEDx Talk, Amy Edmondson, who pioneered research on psychological safety, suggests three things: (1) framing the work as a learning, rather than executive, problem (2) acknowledge your fallibility, and make it safe to speak up, and (3) model curiosity, which creates a necessity for speaking up. Ultimately, it’s about making sure that the team is operating under a growth mindset. Google also offers some great strategies for building psychological safety within a team.

As useful as these tips are, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Tom Brady didn’t learn to throw a football by reading a book (I assume…). Turning psychological safety into a norm within a team takes time, and mastering the ability to implement these strategies takes practice. This is where experiential team-building comes in, in my opinion – it gives you an opportunity to explicitly talk about psychological safety within the context of your own unique team, and a chance to practice using the tools mentioned above in a low-risk situation. After all, practice makes perfect.

So, how psychologically safe do members of your team feel?

Blue Mountain Altitude Challenge


At Summit Team Building we believe that we all learn best when we are outside of our comfort zones. This space is called the learning zone and is when we are engaged, open, inquisitive, and able to expand personal skills and to learn new things.

Based on this belief we have created many different team building programs to get people out of their comfort zones and into their learning zones. At Blue Mountain Resort we have access to an amazing natural environment that makes a perfect learning space. As such we have created many great team building programs that take advantage of this natural classroom and this is precisely why you might choose Blue Mountain in the first place.

We have our 7 Summits Challenge, our Reaching New Heights, and our Blue Mountain Adventure Quest team building programs and new for 2018 is the Altitude Challenge. This program will challenge your team to climb ‘Mount Everest’ represented by Blue Mountain.

After a short introduction on the logistics of how to climb Mount Everest based on Summit President Scott Kress’ personal climb of Mount Everest your team will set out up the mountain. Along the way they will encounter various team challenges that have been custom designed for your group. These challenges will require teamwork, communication, creativity, and more. This is a challenging up hill program. You will sweat and you may even get a little dirty. In the end you will be excited by the accomplishment and rewarded with an amazing view of Georgian Bay from the top of the Niagara Escarpment.

Our professional facilitators will help your team debrief the experience and to connect it to building high performance as a team and personally. Your team will walk away ready to meet their next challenge with new energy and with a focus on teamwork and collaboration.

The next time you are looking for a team building program give us a call to learn all about the new Altitude Challenge program and our other engaging team building options.

Team Building Axe Throwing


You are standing in a field, facing a wooden target with an axe in your hand. You arc your arm back, swing forward and release the axe. It spins through the air striking the target and you have completed your first ever axe throw.

For quite some time we have avoided the topic of axe throwing. Being a bit of a fad in corporate team building we have had many requests for axe throwing, but until now we did not really feel we could call it team building as we define team building.

Team building is a very broad topic and can be anything from a pizza party to an in-depth training intervention. We always put axe throwing into the pizza party category of team building and as a stand-alone event. I do think this is where it belongs. It is fun and you are doing it as a team, but there is a little team or personal growth involved.

However, one cannot dismiss something without personal experience so we as a team set out to have our first axe throwing experience. Now having done axe throwing ourselves we can see the appeal of this activity, but we knew in order for us to call it team building we would need to make more of it than just throwing an axe at a target.

We have now worked axe throwing into a few of our custom team building programs at Blue Mountain Resort and the Kingbridge Conference Centre. As in many of our team building programs your team will be required to navigate through a series of team challenges and now axe throwing can be one of them.

So the next time you are looking for a fun and motivational team building event contact us to discuss how we can add a Summit team building program to your event.

Making Ice Cream with Liquid Nitrogen



At Summit Team Building one of our popular team building programs is our Ice Cream Making Challenge. This fun and delicious team building programs challenges your team to create the best new ice cream flavor.

We are always looking for ways to add to our amazing team building programs and have now added a liquid nitrogen option to this popular ice cream making challenge.

Our classic ice cream making team building program uses an ice cream ball to make the ice cream. This is a very fun, engaging and active way to make ice cream. However, making ice cream with liquid nitrogen is exciting and has a huge ‘wow’ factor.


This team building program is fun and full of energy. It is a great way to energize your team part way through a meeting or to cap of your day with a team building adventure.

The next time you are looking for a team building program with a big ‘wow’ factor give us a call and ask about our new liquid nitrogen Ice Cream Making Challenge.


Expedition – Team Building Training


In April I will be one of the leaders for the next True Patriot Love expedition. This expedition serves many different purposes including media exposure, fun raising, showing our appreciation to our wounded soldiers, and as part of a therapeutic healing process.

In April we have a team of 8 ill and injured Canadian soldiers and 11 civilians embarking on an expedition that will challenge them and provide great learning experiences for all. Included in the program are several training and team building sessions before the departure date, a mentoring and coaching program, personal development assessments and coaching and post expedition support.

All the participants are reading my book, Learning In Thin Air, to support their experience. In my book a detail the trek to Everest base camp so the participants will know what to expect, but more importantly I discuss how to build high performance personally and in teams and this will be critical for our success in Nepal.

True patriot Love has been running these programs since 2013 with the first trip to Nepal. Since then millions of dollars has been raised and many lives have been influenced in a positive way.

On April 1 we will begin a trek to Everest base camp. This trek will provide acclimatization for our ultimate climbing objective of Lobuche East peak at 6172m. Over the course of the three-week expedition all participants will be challenged physically, mentally and emotionally and from this they will have great personal development opportunities.


As part of the preparation for this expedition I ran a team building and training session this past weekend. Several of the team joined me at Georgian Peaks Ski Club in Collingwood. We spent a few hours hiking up the steep trails beside the ski hill. This is great for physical training and also for getting accustomed to the snow and ice conditions we will encounter on Lobuche.

After the hike training we went back to my place where I had strung 100m of rope between the trees in my backyard. This was to be used for the technical training part of the training day. As the temperatures were around -15c and there was a light wind and snow it simulated the mountain conditions quite well.

While climbing Lobuche we will be using fixed rope anchors, a harness, and a safety tether system and the team members need to be able to perform the appropriate tasks with their heavy mountaineering gloves on in cold and windy condition.

People quickly found out how difficult simple tasks became when you had on these large, but warm gloves. Dexterity is greatly reduced and every task takes longer. We will have dozens of transition points on the climb and lost time will add up quickly and could put us in a dangerous position. This is why we need to practice this over and over until it become more natural.

A fun team building dinner concluded our great training day.

Everyone is excited about the expedition and working hard to be ready. I will continue to post updates as the departure date gets closer and throughout the expedition.

Climb safe, Scott.

Learning In Thin Air Motivational Keynote

Scott Kress


As a keynote and motivational speaker, I need to market myself as any business does. Search engine optimization, social media, blogs, showcase events, trade shows, and writing books are just a few ways to promote me as a speaker. Many of my bookings come from repeat clients and referrals. When this is the case it is usually a pretty easy decision for them to book me as they know me from a past experience or I have been referred by a trusted friend or colleague. In the case of someone who finds me through a Google search or from a speakers bureau, they do not know me from the next speaker.

In today’s world, you have access to so many talented speakers with great stories and messages. I may be considered an adventure based motivational speaker or a team building speaker and there are many speakers that can fit into the same category.

So how do you know who is the right speaker for your event? A speaker’s bio will give you your first insights into who they are, their values, their story, their vision, their mission and so on. How do they differentiate themselves from others? For me, I differentiate myself with my mix of adventure and my occupation as a team building trainer for corporations and universities. I am able to bring the adventure world and the academic world together like few can.

In the speaking world, however, a great bio will only get you so far as the person seeking to hire you wants and needs to know how you perform. What is your stage presence, your energy level, and how do you deliver your message? This is where the video sample comes in. A video sample is a critical tool for marketing and booking a speaker.

As a new speaker, great video is hard to come by, but as you get more experience and deliver more presentations you will have access to some pretty amazing footage. Some speakers go to a studio and talk on a green screen, but I have never been comfortable with this and I have gathered video clips from many presentations over the years, but I was always looking for the great clip and now I think I have found it.

In January of 2016, I was asked to speak at the Hard Rock Resort in Mexico for a leading banking institution. The audience was huge and the screen was enormous. This was no 8×8 meeting room screen. This was an LED screen 50-feet tall and 150-feet long. The resolution was incredible and every one of my slides, photos, and the video popped like never before. It was an amazing event and I was fortunate to receive a copy of my presentation.

I have cut it into a series of small clips here to give you an idea of what you will experience when you book me and my Learning In Thin Air Motivational Keynote for your next event. Enjoy!