Google Spent Years Studying Effective Teams. This Single Quality Contributed Most to Their Success
The best companies are made up of great teams. You see, even a company full of A-players won't succeed if those individuals don't have the ability to work well together.
That's why not too long ago, Google set out on a quest to figure out what makes a team successful. They code-named the study Project Aristotle, a tribute to the philosopher's famous quote "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
To define "effectiveness," the team decided on assessment criteria that measured both qualitative and quantitative data. They analyzed dozens of teams and interviewed hundreds of executives, team leads and team members.
The researchers then evaluated team effectiveness in four different ways:
- Executive evaluation of the team;
- Team leader evaluation of the team;
- Team member evaluation of the team; and
- Sales performance against quarterly quota.
So, what did they find?
Google published some of its findings here, along with the following insightful statement:
"The researchers found that what really mattered was less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together".
What mattered most:
So what was the most important factor contributing to a team's effectiveness?
It was psychological safety.
Simply put, psychological safety refers to an individual's perception of taking a risk, and the response his or her teammates will have to taking that risk.
Google describes it this way:
In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.
In other words, great teams thrive on trust.
This may appear to be a simple concept, but building trust between team members is no easy task. For example, a team of just five persons brings along varying viewpoints, working styles and ideas about how to get a job done.
In my forthcoming book, EQ, Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I analyze fascinating research and real stories of some of the most successful teams in the world.
Here's a glimpse at some of the actions that can help you build trust into your teams:
To build trust, you must respect how others think and feel. That's why it's important to listen first.
When you regularly and skillfully listen to others, you stay in touch with their reality, get to know their world and show you value their experience. Active listening involves asking questions, along with concentrated effort to understand your partner's answers--all while resisting the urge to judge. Careful listening helps you identify each individual team member's strengths, weaknesses, and style of communication.
Additionally, you send the message that what's important to them is important to you.
Beyond listening, try your best to understand your fellow team members and their perspectives. This is called cognitive empathy.
But you'll also benefit from showing affective, or emotional empathy. This means attempting to share the feelings of another.
For example, if a colleague shares a struggle, you may think: "Well, that's not such a big deal. I've dealt with that before." When this happens, try to think of a time when you felt stressed or overwhelmed, and draw on that feeling to help you relate.
Authenticity creates trust. We're drawn to those who "keep it real," who realize that they aren't perfect, but are willing to show those imperfections because they know everyone else has them, too.
Authenticity doesn't mean sharing everything about yourself, to everyone, all of the time. It does mean saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your values and principles above all else.
Set the example.
Words can build trust only if they are backed up by actions.
That's why it's so important to practice what you preach and set the example: You can preach respect and integrity all you want; it won't mean a thing when you curse out a member of your team.
One of the quickest ways to gain someone's trust is to help that person.
Think about your favorite boss. What school he or she graduated from, with what kind of degree, and this person's previous accomplishments--none of these details are relevant to your relationship. But how about when this boss was willing to take time out of their busy schedule to listen, help out, or get down in the trenches and work alongside you?
Trust is about the long game. Help wherever and whenever you can.
Disagree and commit.
As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explains, to "disagree and commit" doesn't mean "thinking your team is wrong and missing the point," which will prevent you from offering true support. Rather, it's a genuine, sincere commitment to go the team's way, even if you disagree.
Of course, before you reach that stage, you should be able to explain your position, and the team should reasonably weigh your concerns.
But if you decide to disagree and commit, you're all in. No sabotaging the project--directly or indirectly. By trusting your team's gut, you give them room to experiment and grow--and your people gain confidence.
Being humble doesn't mean that you that you never stand up for your own opinions or principles. Rather, it means recognizing that you don't know everything--and that you're willing to learn from others.
It also means being willing to say those two most difficult words when needed: I'm sorry.
There's nothing worse than the feeling that leaders don't care about keeping you in the loop, or even worse, that they're keeping secrets.
Make sure your vision, intentions, and methods are clear to everyone on your team--and that they have access to the information they need to do their best work.
Commend sincerely and specifically.
When you commend and praise others, you satisfy a basic human need. As your colleagues notice that you appreciate their efforts, they're naturally motivated to do more. The more specific, the better: Tell them what you appreciate, and why.
And remember, everyone deserves commendation for something. By learning to identify, recognize, and praise those talents, you bring out the best in them.