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  • Writer's pictureJim Mercer

SamTastic Tip: 3/21/16 - How can you make your teams better?

This week’s tip: How can you make your teams better?

Each of us is a member of multiple teams. Many of us create teams: subject or project groups, Professional Learning Communities, etc. Today’s tip is a way to make each team better and is borrowed from reviews by Kim Marshall and Business Insider of a New York Times story about Google’s Project Aristotle.

From Kim Marshall:

Project Aristotle began looking at group norms - the culture of unwritten rules that guide people when they collaborate - and hit pay dirt. It turned out that two group norms were shared by virtually all of Google’s most effective teams:

- Equal air time - In teams that got the best results, members participated roughly the same amount during meetings. “As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,” said Google researcher Anita Woolley. “But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.”

- Interpersonal sensitivity - Effective team members had the ability to intuit how colleagues felt by their tone of voice, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues. The members of less- effective teams were less tuned in to their teammates’ feelings.

These characteristics help create psychological safety - a team culture in which individuals have “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up,” says Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied high- functioning groups. “It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”

From Business Insider:

It’s common wisdom that most modern workplaces rely on teamwork, but some teams are simply better than others. In recent years, Google set out to build the “perfect team,” as Charles Duhigg writes in The New York Times Magazine this weekend.

The tech behemoth launched a venture in 2012 called Project Aristotle, which gathered data by analyzing many studies and actually observing the way people interacted in a group, according to The New York Times. Down the line Project Aristotle landed on the most fundamental component that ultimately makes a team successful: psychological safety.

Psychological safety enables employees to be comfortable opening up to their colleagues and taking risks.

The New York Times points to a study written by Amy Edmondson in 1999 which discusses the term. She writes that it’s a “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” Additionally, it’s “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”

In other words, that could mean feeling comfortable telling your boss that someone in your family is sick, or revealing what’s truly bugging you outside — and inside — of the office.

The Times points to an example of one mid-level manager who confided in his employees that he had Stage 4 cancer. The team — which originally didn’t work particularly well together — then continued to open up to each other about their own personal issues, and ultimately felt more comfortable discussing a survey about how the team worked together.

From The Times:

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency.

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