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Google Spent Years Studying Effective Teams. This Single Quality Contributed Most to Their Success

What matters isn’t so much who’s on your team, but rather how the team works together.

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BY Justin Bariso - 08 Jan 2018

Google Spent Years Studying Effective Teams. This Single Quality Contributed Most to Their Success

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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. To do this, 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:

1. Executive evaluation of the team

2. Team leader evaluation of the team

3. Team member evaluation of the team

4. 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 on your teams:

Be authentic.

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 only build trust 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.

Be helpful.

One of the quickest ways to gain someone's trust is to help them.

Think about your favorite boss. Where they graduated from, what kind of degree they have, even their previous accomplishments--none of this is relevant to your relationship. But how about the time they were willing to take 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, your people gain confidence, and you give them room to experiment and grow.

Be humble.

Being humble doesn't mean that you lack self-confidence, or that you never stand up for your own opinions or principles. It does mean 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.

Be transparent.

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.

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