The Human Factor in the Workplace of the Future.

Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) continues to be an increasingly necessary workplace improvement to help organizations become more competitive. Automating mundane tasks streamlines business functions to improve delivery, increase quality and reduce costs, and while routine processes are ideal for AI, in a newly reimagined workforce, human contributions are equally important. Far from eliminating human workers, the number and types of people jobs created as a result of AI will increase and be in high demand. This includes technical areas such as programming and technology design, as well as roles that deal with workplace changes resulting from the increased use of AI, such as user and employee experience, ethics, and, of course, the need for AI training. Further, AI can be used to complement existing roles so that certain positions can be upskilled and supported by AI, particularly those requiring a more personal, intuitive, and empathetic touch.[i] 

Acknowledging the challenges of “fusing people and technology”, Deloitte’s notes in its 2020 Global Human Capital Trends that, “The power of the social enterprise lies in its ability to bring a human focus to everything it touches…”.[ii]  Organizations need to consider how AI can best serve their mission and goals and how to develop an AI ready workforce. To achieve such balance and successfully operate in this future workplace – one that is on our virtual doorstep – requires a range of diverse skills and talents melded in harmony. In other words, it will be a team sport.[iii]

Teamwork is a staple in virtually all areas including sports, military, medicine, marketing, IT, human resources, and more. Students learn the importance of working in groups at an early age and study groups long have been a fundamental component of MBA programs to foster bonds and prepare students for the inevitability of future workplace dynamics.[iv] Research on team effectiveness is prolific, and theories abound on what makes the “perfect” team. Across fields, there is growing recognition that skills and abilities, while important, have less to do with a team’s success than its psychological makeup.

Although team members each have an important functional role, too much emphasis has traditionally been placed on skills and experience rather than considering each member’s psychological role and how that affects the team.[v] [vi] This explains why the best minds don’t necessarily make the best teams and why what should, theoretically, be the “A Team” can turn out to be more of a B or even C team. Instead, the personalities of the members are better predictors of the success of the team.

For the past twenty-years, the “Big Five” personality traits have been widely accepted as appropriately representative of most individuals. Not surprisingly, these dimensions – openness to new experience, conscientiousness, extroversion/introversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism[vii] – often are used to assess employees and job candidates based on the assumption that they are  indicative of superior job performance. However, while there is consensus that these attributes are desirable, specific attributes may not be appropriate or necessary for all jobs.[viii] Certainly  extroversion is a plus for a sales position, but it may not be a critical attribute for a librarian or mechanic. Conscientiousness may be coveted by some supervisors, but others may find that it inhibits highly desired creativity and spontaneity. And while agreeableness is important among team members, at the same time highly agreeable people may be uncomfortable posing challenging questions or playing devil’s advocate, which are critical to innovation and identifying gaps.[ix] As such, a bigger picture view that factors employees personalities in conjunction with the type of project and its ultimate goals should be considered when determining team composition.[x]

Major enterprises have come to recognize the importance of this and, in an effort to create highly effective teams, have poured extensive resources into identifying characteristic associated with the most successful teams. As a result of their research, Microsoft developed an entire curriculum based on the five key attributes they found to be common in successful teams: team purpose, collective identity, awareness and inclusion, trust and vulnerability, and constructive tension[xi]. Google hypothesized that the best teams would consist of the best people, so they initiated Project Aristotle to find out.  As with most workplace groups, they found that some teams clicked immediately while others struggled to make it through a meeting. Ultimately, they identified two shared behaviors common to successful teams. First, each member spoke about the same amount. This occurred in different ways but at the end of the day, everyone had the opportunity to speak and be heard. Second, members on the “good” teams were more intuitive about how others felt and were more sensitive to team members feelings.[xii] This reinforces the importance of uniquely human roles as the use of AI continues.

Another area that characterizes effective teams is their comfort with conflict. Conflict, in reasonable quantity, is essential in teams because it helps members stay motivated and innovative, encourages creativity and communication, creates bonds, improves morale, unifies direction, and discourages groupthink.[xiii] Finally, as with all relationships, trust is always a key attribute. This is especially important in  virtual teams[xiv] where members might miss each other’s nonverbal cues and other more nuanced communications.


[i] Meister, J. (2019, Jan 8). Ten HR trends in the age of artificial intelligence. Forbes.

[ii] Volini, E., Denny, B., Schwartz, J., Mallon, D., VanDurme, Y., Hauptmann,…Poynton, S. (2020, May 15). The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward. Deloitte Insights, 2020 Global Human Capital Trends.

[iii] Meister

[iv] Duhigg, C. (2016, Feb 25). What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team. The New York Times Magazine.

[v] Hogan Assessment Systems Inc. (2016). Conflict: The secret to successful teams.

[vi] Winsborough, D., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2017, Jan 25). Great teams are about personalities, not just skills. Harvard Business Review.

[vii] McCrae, R.R., & Costa, P.T. (1992). An introduction to the five-factor model and its applications. Journal of Personality, 60, 175-215.

[viii] American Psychological Association. (2020). Which traits predict job performance?

[ix]  LePine, J.A., Buckman, B.R., Crawford, E.R., Methot, J.R. (2011). A review of research on personality in teams: Accounting for pathways spanning levels of theory and analysis. Human Resource Management Review, 21, 311-330.

[x] Weir, K. (2018, Sept). What makes teams work? American Psychological Association, Monitor on Psychology.

[xi] Spataro, J. (2019, Nov 19). 5 attributes of successful teams. Microsoft.

[xii] Duhigg

[xiii] Hogan Assessment Systems Inc.

[xiv] Ford, R.C., Piccolo, R.F., Ford, L.R. (2016). Strategies for building effective virtual teams: Trust is key. Business Horizons, 60, 25-34.

Creating Safe Teams – and what does that mean?

In today’s workplace, employees often are hired for their unique skills and experience. While this hyper-focused knowledge helps create a competitive edge, it also creates demand for teams where multiple individuals can bring together their specific skill sets to strategize and respond to more complex, organizational goals.[1] To do this successfully requires more than simply uniting appropriately credentialed members, however, it needs collaboration. 

Because collaboration does not always occur organically, leaders may need to intentionally create an environment where employees can come together in exceptional ways. For this to happen, all team members needs to feel their voices are heard and matter. In other words, they need psychological safety, that is, a climate where they are comfortable being and expressing themselves.[2] Team members need to know they can be wrong and at ease when having difficult conversations with colleagues and supervisors without causing insecurity.[3] While  organizational culture has its influence here, individual behavior is more of a key driver.[4]

Psychological safety exists only when there is  a willingness by all team members to be respectful of each others’ opinions and willing to engage in healthy debate. When it comes down to it, psychological safety means being vulnerable, and that scares people. It’s not only about being comfortable speaking up yourself, or admitting to your boss that the idea you convinced her to execute was a flop, it means sticking your neck out for a colleague who may be in the hot seat.[5] At the same time, it also means that you know that the feedback you receive, whether encouraging of your ideas or not, will be constructive and supportive.

Leaders can contribute to psychological safety by creating shared understanding, proactively seeking input, and responding appreciatively.[6] This is important because employees perceive the level of psychological safety to be higher when leaders have positive relationships with followers.[7] It is also important for leaders to measure employees’ views on psychological safety. This means team members, including managers, should asks for feedback, and  there should be metrics in place to periodically assess how team members feel[8] because damages to psychological safety must be repaired to ensure its continuity.[9]

Employees want this in their workplace! A Pew Research survey found that 89% of adults think it is “essential” for top executives to create a safe and respectful workplace, making it a top  three priority for businesses (along with honest and ethical leadership and providing fair pay and good benefits).[10] However, only 30% of U.S. workers strongly agree that their opinions at work count.[11] This is a huge – and costly gap because psychological safety impacts important organizational outcomes.

Psychological safety leads to greater engagement and comfort in experimenting and taking risks because employees don’t fear retribution, punishment, or embarrassment.[12] They are comfortable being collaborative and asking for or offering help. Psychological safety has a reciprocal effect in terms of engagement in that this type of environment encourages greater engagement, which itself adds to the psychological safety.[13] Google conducted a two-year study on team performance and found that psychological safety was, by far, the most important dynamic associated with high-performing teams. Individuals who were on teams with higher psychological safety brought in more revenue, were rated as effective by executives twice as often as other employees, embraced diverse ideas, and were less likely to leave the company.[14] High-performing teams also demonstrate higher engagement, increased motivation, better performance, and greater opportunities for learning and development.[15]

Although psychological safety is a characteristic of the whole team, it starts with the individual. As such, team members need to get in the right headspace to create a psychologically safe team. To increase psychological safety and be more accountable in a team, members should focus on collaboration and curiosity, rather than competition and blame.[16] Recognize that even when teams disagree, every member is a person with their own hopes, anxieties, and families who love them. Like you, they want peace and happiness in their lives.

You can be accountable for your contribution to creating a psychologically safe, collaborative team by  adapting a new perspective. Start by reframing your perception of failure as having only disastrous outcomes.[17] Anxiety is wasted if it turns out your boss loves the idea you agonized over bringing forward. Even if it’s rejected, you might get feedback  to help you refine it, but either way, it’s very unlikely you will lose your job if your boss doesn’t like your idea. Reframing failure as just one of the many, albeit less desirable, steps on the way to success can change your attitude and approach towards conquering it.

Creating a truly psychologically safe environment means that all team members, regardless of level or location, share and benefit from the values established by the organization. In a face to face environment, team members benefit beyond formal interactions because they also can interact more casually, over coffee or lunch. Remote workers are unable to engage in the same ways.  With more people working from home, by choice or need, it is increasingly important for organizations to actively and deliberately create opportunities for all team members to interact.[18]

There are many ways to engage employees across geographical barriers and learn about their views, but the best way, hand’s down, is to ask them. This could, and should, be done on several levels. When creating a new team, or adding a member, ask each team member’s views on their skillsets, what they believe to be their greatest asset to the team, where they might need support, and so on. Don’t be afraid to include more personal information for team-building. Ask how each person got their name or a surprising fact about themselves. Be sure to document or graph responses as a reference to foster collaboration across the whole team.

Beyond work-related projects, teams should also incorporate regular “events” to develop a collaborative and supportive environment.  Have coffee or happy hours (maybe at the same time, depending on where team members are located!) where conversations are focused on individuals instead of work. You can also maintain a private team site or YouTube channel where employees are encouraged to post content, such as their children’s first day of school pictures or #DreamVacation links. Building social bonds helps build positive and trusting relationships, which are critical to psychological safety and successful collaboration among teams.

[1] Jones, B.F. (2017). The science behind the growing importance of collaboration. Kellogg School of Management, KelloggInsight

[2] Herway, J. (2017). How to create a culture of psychological safety. Gallup Workplace.

[3] Lagace, M. (2018). Make your employees feel psychologically safe. Harvard Business School, Working Knowledge.

[4] Borysenko, Karlyn. (2018). How to create your own psychological safety at work. Forbes.

[5] Borysenko

[6] Lagace

[7] Frazier, M.L., Fainshmidt, S., Klinger, R.L., Pezeshkan, A., & Vracheva, V. (2017). Psychological safety: A meta-analytic review and extension. Personnel Psychology, 70, 113-165.

[8] Delizonna, L., (2017). High-performing teams need psychological safety. Here’s how to create it. Harvard Business Review.

[9] Frazier et al.

[10] Parker, K. (2018). Many Americans say women are better than men at creating safe, respectful workplaces. Pew Research Center.

[11] Herway

[12] Herway

[13] Frazier et al.

[14] Rozovsky, J. (2015). The five keys to a successful Google team. Google; re:Work

[15] Delizonna

[16] Borysenko

[17] Borysenko

[18] Menabney, D. (2019). Why you need even more trust with a remote team. Forbes.

Creating Accountability in Task Management

Reasonable, Possible, Understood

Some leaders believe that accountability is intrinsic, with some employees going above and beyond every time, on every task, while others do the bare minimum of work to stay under the radar. Creating an environment designed for accountability, where all employees proudly take ownership of their tasks and outcomes can significantly improve performance at the individual, team, and organizational level.[i]  

Accountability is the expectations about what an individual or organization is obliged to explain, justify, or take responsibility for. Traditionally, leaders too often have opted for  hierarchical approach to accountability, enforcing a top-down chain of command. This anachronistic view reflects a workplace in which superiors delegate authority to subordinates and hold them accountable for their decision and behavior by dictating what needs to be done, how it should be done, and the expectations for outcomes.[ii] This rarely, if ever, is effective and more likely results in unresolved issues and frustration on the part of leaders and employees.   

Fostering an environment of accountability must be fundamental within an organization’s culture.[iii] Knowing and being invested in the organization’s goals, objectives, and key results set the standards for accountability and other expected behaviors and contributions. To that end, everyone in the organization, from the line workers through the CEO, must have a unified understanding of the organization’s goals and what it stands for. Unfortunately, this clarity is glaringly absent from most organizations. A Workplace Accountability Study of 40,000 employees across industries found that 85% of survey participants were not sure what their organizations were trying to achieve.  With such a staggering imbalance it is no wonder that there is a lack of alignment and focus in understanding and successfully completing mission critical tasks.[iv]

Other factors beyond culture also influence accountability. Large or complex organizational structures can be challenged in creating an expectation of accountability because projects often involve multiple, and perhaps geographically disparate teams, which can result in blurred leadership and boundaries. Another challenge in large organizations is that decisions or changes in direction may be made by one office, but are not quickly, accurately, or effectively shared with other entities who continue to proceed under different guidelines and goals. With so many moving parts, it is not surprising that inconsistencies arise for which few, if any, participants are willing to assume responsibility. [v]

To create trusting and collaborative relationships that serve as the foundation for accountability there are three areas to consider when assigning tasks.

First, is the task reasonableDoes what you are asking an employee to do make sense in terms of its  structure, duration, and priority within the individual’s and organization’s schedule? Ensuring that roles and processes are clear is critical, and eliminating confusion and providing clear guidance on how the proceed is essential prior to implementation. Expectations must be clearly defined if organizational short- and long-term goals are to be met.[vi] The Workplace Accountability Study found that 50% of those surveyed disliked accountability because they didn’t know how to effectively implement it.[vii] Leaders cannot expect employees to be accountable without a clear understanding of what the company is trying to achieve.

Next, ensure that the task is possibleand resources are available to support its completion.  Leaders must provide support and resources, along with advice on how to improve. This helps create a learning environment where employees feel like they have the freedom to be more innovative and are comfortable seeking guidance if needed. Creating genuine accountability involves giving up the reigns, so while setting clear goals is critical, it is also important to allow employees the freedom to determine how to achieve those goals.[viii]

Employees who feel their managers care for them want to help the organization succeed; those who don’t, are unmotivated to take any initiative above and beyond their identified requirements.[ix]  [x] Teams who are motivated and work well together will identify existing gaps and create new processes that enable them to handle tasks even more efficiently.[xi] Again, this must be reflected in the organization’s culture. To encourage commitment to reaching goals, engage employees in the goal-setting process.[xii]  This helps ensure that they understand the expectations and increases their commitment to the project. Conversely a lack of clarity contributes to a lack of accountability.

Finally, the task must be understoodKnowing the goals is one thing, but being aligned on what successful completion of a task looks like might be something else entirely!  Once goals are clearly understood, leaders should provide specific, individualized metrics for each role. Further, they should be clear on how each individual’s contributions impact the overall success of the project. This requires feedback and updates on progress, which should link specifically to the goals individuals are tasked with completing.[xiii] [xiv]

To be clear, accountability is a two way process. Inherent in the assignment of a task is a supervisor’s accountability to deliver the appropriate resources to complete the task and to provide the employee with an evaluation of her effectiveness based on pre-determined and agreed upon criteria. This iterates the need for being very clear in identifying which individuals or teams are responsible for each task and letting them know the criteria by which they will be measured, individually and as part of the overall project success.  This is particularly critical with cross-functional teams. [xv]

It is also important to note that accountability shouldn’t be viewed as a precursor to punishment. Among those surveyed in the Workplace Accountability study, 80% said feedback was something that happens to them only when things go wrong, if it occurs at all![xvi] In such an environment, employees will be afraid to speak up about issues that may prevent them from task completion, and will most assuredly make them think twice before offering suggestions about a new or more efficient approach.[xvii] Certainly consequences for failing to complete tasks that are reasonable, possible, and understood should be made clear at the outset and enacted when necessary. However, penalizing employees who are unable to complete their tasks because they were not properly prepared or were required to follow an established but ineffective process is unfair and punitive. Of course, when employees know the expectations, have the resources to complete tasks, and receive feedback during the process, the likelihood of failure is virtually eliminated.

To experience the benefits that occur when accountability is an organization-wide expectation, leaders must “walk the talk” and demonstrate by example. Accountability in organizations builds trust, reduces unnecessary repetition and unproductive activity, and achieves better compliance. It may take some effort to implement effective processes, but the successful outcomes for employees and the organization are well worth the effort. 

[i] Partners In Leadership. (2014). Landmark workplace study reveals “Crisis of accountability”.

[ii] Bovens, M., Goodin, R.E., Schillemans, T. (eds.). (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Public Accountability

[iii] White, D., & White, P. (2017). Build a culture of accountability in 5 steps. Entrepreneur

[iv] Partners In Leadership

[v] Ashkenas, R. (2012). Why accountability is so muddled, and how to un-muddle it. Harvard Business Review.

[vi] Robertson, A., & Dvorak, N. (2019). 5 ways to promote accountability. Gallup – Workplace.

[vii] Partners In Leadership

[viii] Browning, H. (2012). 7 ways to build accountable organizations. Forbes.

[ix] Browning

[x] Robertson & Dvorak

[xi] Browning

[xii] Robertson & Dvorak

[xiii] Browning

[xiv] Robertson & Dvorak

[xv] Ashkenas

[xvi] Partners In Leadership

[xvii] Forbes