With employees spending a significant amount of their day communicating with colleagues, it is important that they work with each other in a productive manner. When looking at the Google teams that worked well together, researchers found that there was no pattern for the success of teams. Some teams were made up of friends while others were strangers. Some had strong managers while others preferred a less hierarchical structure. Even teams with nearly identical makeups and members had radically different levels of effectiveness.
Project Aristotle researchers found that teams that did well on one assignment usually did well on others and, conversely, those that failed at one thing seemed to fail at everything. After many months of research and studying hundreds of teams, they concluded that what distinguished the productive teams from the dysfunctional ones was how teammates treated one another.
As researchers studied the groups they noticed that two behaviors were shared by the productive groups.
- Conversational Turn-taking: Team members from productive groups spoke in the same proportion, referred to as “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.” While in less productive groups only one person or a small group spoke, causing a decline in the collective intelligence.
- Social Sensitivity: Good teams had high “average social sensitivity,” meaning that they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.
These two behaviors (conversational turn-taking and social sensitivity) are known as aspects of “psychological safety.” Psychological safety is a shared belief among team members that it is a safe place for interpersonal risk taking. Furthermore, researchers also found that if team leaders were direct and straightforward, it helped create and reinforce that safe environment.
Google’s research indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work. They found that teams that shared emotional conversations created human bonds. Team work was at its best when teams had members that listened to each other and showed sensitivity to each other’s feelings and needs.
The full New York Times article is available if you would like to read it.