Back in 2012, Google (in classic Google fashion) sought to identify a formula for creating the most successful workplace team. They called this experiment “Project Aristotle,” named after the philosopher credited with the remarkable notion that “there exists a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.” In his Inc. article, which you can read here, author Justin Bariso offers a helpful breakdown of Project Aristotle’s findings and what Google – and other companies – can learn from this data, collected from hundreds of interviews with 180 teams over a number of years. The key takeaway: team success demands emotional intelligence.
#1: Psychological Safety
A psychologically safe environment is one in which people feel comfortable to take risks, to be vulnerable about discussing their mistakes, and to be honest when sharing feedback. As is usually the case, the best way to foster this is to lead by example. If you want your team to strive for innovation, tell them about a time you took a risk on the path to innovation that didn’t yield the intended results. By being vulnerable about your own experiences with defeat, you’ll cultivate a healthy climate around the idea of failure, a safer space for risk-taking, and perhaps, in turn, a more innovative team.
A successful team is comprised of people who can be relied upon to complete projects on time and to the best of their abilities. What is the best way to ensure dependability among your team? You guessed it: by being a dependable leader yourself. Modeling the traits of dependability – responding to questions and requests, meeting deadlines, being approachable and available – will encourage your team to do the same. It is also important to demonstrate how a lack of dependability brings down the whole team. You can do this by encouraging people to ask for help if they’re struggling, rewarding people when they do so, and imposing consequences when they don’t.
#3: Structure & Clarity
This element of team success really comes down to communication: letting your team know what the expectations are around availability, turnaround times, and the intended scopes and durations of projects. Clear communication is the only way your team will know what each member is responsible for, which will lead to more productive work and enhanced collaboration. Be sure to communicate both short- and long-term goals and milestones, and to offer reminders of these expectations and goals along the way.
People do their best work when they feel a personal attachment to it, be it passion, ownership, or simply pride. Therefore, when possible, try to assign work that aligns with people’s strengths and talents. Encourage people to be honest about what they like and don’t like, and try to evenly distribute the lesser-desired tasks throughout the team. When an opportunity to provide feedback arises, highlight the meaning and importance of the work performed, and offer constructive guidance on target areas of growth. Rather than spring criticism on someone, ask permission to share a suggestion for improvement so that they’re primed to absorb the feedback.
The fifth and final ingredient to team success according to Project Aristotle is impact – closely related to meaning, but more on an organizational level than a personal one. You are one step closer to upper management than your team is, so you will inevitably possess more knowledge of the impact your team’s work has on the organization as a whole. As often as you can, share this intel with your team to clue them in on why the work they’re doing is important and how it effects change – and when you do, go beyond the stats and share the real stories behind them.
A + B ≠ C
Prioritizing these five elements will create a work environment rich with emotional intelligence, and will calibrate your team to work well together. And remember, the keyword here is “team” – while acquiring and retaining individual talent is important, it’s only half the battle. A star-studded sports team will be defeated if the underdog outshines them by working together.