Is it optimal to have a team of high performers working together? Does the team need to be good friends? What are the two things that cohesive teams do? What is the number one factor that determines a team's effectiveness?
Google have spent millions on research, training programs and business strategies with the hope of fostering optimal team environments. Many of the studies were inconclusive or ineffective, suggesting that there is no formula for making a rock-solid team.
Then, in 2015 Laszlo Bock, Head of People Operations at Google announced the results of research called Project Aristotle, which they had been collecting for two years previously. At a presentation of the research, the Head of People Operations at Google said:
Easier said than done you might think, but some leaders at Google are said to make checkmarks beside people’s names each time they speak so that they make sure they are getting a chance to speak and that they feel listened to. Other common actions are responding to what the person said or repeating a part of what they said to show that they are being listened to - also known as active listening.
In her TED Talk, businesswoman Margaret Heffernan tells a story about the same principles:
To sum up, the first key to successful teams is the need to feel ‘psychologically safe’. And the way to do this is to develop key norms. Charles Duhigg, author of “Smarter, Faster, Stronger” describes the norms that Google’s surveys highlighted as most effective: 'allowing others to fail without repercussions, respecting divergent opinions, feeling free to question others’ choices but also trusting that people aren’t trying to undermine you'. In other words, we don’t want to be criticised, blamed or made look stupid.
The second is that each person on the team is given roughly the same amount of time to speak. This allows team members to feel that they are significant and that their opinions matter, even if they are not at the top of the ladder.
And that's it! Two simple teamwork skills that anyone can implement for free.
Heffernan, M. (2015) Forget the pecking order at work. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_why_it_s_time_to_forget_the_pecking_order_at_work (Accessed: 13 February 2017).
Duhigg, Charles. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive. Random House. Kindle Edition.