While many factors come into play in creating and maintaining a solid and healthy working team, the bottom line comes down to such a simple thing: kindness.
Yes, it’s true, according to the mother of all team creators, Google.
Wanting to find out what makes the quintessential team, a … well, a team was formed at Google and given a project name: Project Aristotle.
The project compiled data from hundreds of interviews with Google employees to attempt to pinpoint the perfect combination that would lead to a solid team: was it team members? Was it skill sets? Google was bound and determined to find the perfect algorithm: the one that defined a top team.
As it turned out, the right algorithm wasn’t about the WHO but about the HOW. The members of the team—their skills, abilities, experience—was found to be less important than how the team members interacted with one another. In other words, HOW they worked together as a team was more important than WHO they were as individual team members.
This probably isn’t ‘breaking news’ to anyone who has experience leading teams but it’s significant in that it puts into specific relief that which many leaders—including people like Steven Covey—have suspected all along: psychological safety is the key to an effective team.
Covey said in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Members of productive teams take the effort to understand each other, find a way to relate to each other, and then try to make themselves understood.”
Put another way, kindness drives a good team. Specifically, the project discovered five keys to a successful team:
- Psychological safety—taking risks within the team and in front of one another without feeling as if there will be negative repercussions.
- Dependability—knowing that each member will do their best work, on time.
- Structure and clarity—having each member be absolutely clear on their role, the processes for the project/team and the ultimate goal they are trying to achieve together.
- Meaning of work—each team member feels personally invested in the work being accomplished.
- Impact of work—each team member feels that the work matters, in the overall scheme of the organization and the world at large.
Identifying solidly with all five keys is the hallmark of an effective team. A leader who feels that this isn’t happening with his or her team can take heart if the first of the five is underway in his or her group. Why? Because ‘psychological safety’ is at the heart of all the keys and without it, the rest doesn’t hang together. It’s primary and most important.
A team can’t be effective if its members, including the leader, don’t feel safe sharing or putting out their ideas, in effect creating vulnerability vis-a-vis their team members. Work on that and you’ve got a team that’s working.