Years of research provide a major clue as to how to get the most out of your team.
Great companies are made up of great teams. It’s one thing to hire a bunch of rock stars, but it’s a completely different thing to get those stars to work together.
That’s why a few years ago, Google went on a mission: Discover how to build the perfect team.
The study was code-named “Project Aristotle,” a tribute to the famous philosopher’s belief that it’s possible to have a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Studying 180 teams, the researchers interviewed hundreds of executives, team leads, and team members.
After poring through the data, the research team isolated specific factors that influenced team effectiveness. But they clearly ranked one factor as most important:
Google describes it this way:
“Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. 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, Google discovered that for teams to work well together, team members must feel comfortable enough to be themselves. Then, and only then, can they contribute to their full potential.
What’s emotional intelligence got to do with it?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. Put even more simply, it’s the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.
But what does emotional intelligence have to do with Google’s research on building great teams?
In a study similar to Google’s, psychologists from Carnegie Mellon, M.I.T. and Union College further broke down individual elements of psychological safety. These researchers discovered that good teams generally did two things:
1. When working on tasks, teammates all got the chance to speak, and no single person dominated the conversation.
2. Teams had high “average social sensitivity.” In other words, individual team members were able to correctly interpret fellow teammates’ expressions, tone of voice, and nonverbal cues. This led them to be more sensitive to teammates feelings during communication.
How can you apply these learnings to your workplace?
In my book, EQ, Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I share the following practical tips you can follow to build a culture of psychological safety among your teams:
Listen more. Talk less.