Notre Dame Football. Apollo 11. Apple. Google. Ford. Navy SEALS.
All of these teams are effective ones, but what makes them effective? There are so many different combinations of team makeups. Teams may be composed of extraverts, introverts, programmers, analysts, entrepreneurs, and leaders; just to name a few. But what makes these individuals successful in a team setting?
Nowadays, teamwork and group projects are the new norm. People who once sought peaceful solitude are now being brought into teams to work collaboratively. We have long known that teamwork is required when working with others. However, collaborative work has become incredibly important in the workplace, especially at Google. Google decided to conduct research in order to figure out what exactly makes successful teams so successful.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” — Aristotle
They aptly named their research, Project Aristotle. The researchers decided to undertake the observation of over a hundred teams for more than a year. They found that the composition of a team does not really affect the team’s effectiveness. They observed effective teams made completely of friends and teams made of complete strangers. They could not really make any conclusions.
The researchers continued to look for patterns when they came across a common idea shared amongst psychologists and sociologists: “group norms.” These group norms would be “unwritten rules” where everyone would act accordingly. These unwritten rules seem to come about due to group dynamics and interactions. Google noticed that some teams would communicate through open and unorganized meetings while other teams would communicate in organized and regimented meetings.
The “who” part of the question was no longer important. The “how” part of the question would emerge later on in the research. How do group norms and behaviors contribute to a team’s effectiveness? The researchers eventually found that what differentiated a good team from a bad one was how the individuals treated one another within the team.
More specifically, they found that members of good teams spoke evenly in terms of time. This would allow for their collective intelligence to grow, making them more effective. The researchers also found that good teams were highly sensitive to social cues. This means that members were able to know how another member was feeling based off of their tone of voice, expressions or other nonverbal cues. These two variables actually fall under a different term: psychological safety. Good teams would feel a sense of safety when taking risks by suggesting new or contrasting ideas.
Teams with a high sense of psychological safety perform better. They feel more energized after a meeting with the team. They feel a sense of accomplishment rather than frustration. Good teams listen to one another, feel deeply, share experiences, connect, and understand.
When we think of teams like Apollo 11, Navy SEALS, and of course, the 1970s Notre Dame Football Team, we think of a machine. If the parts are oiled, they can work together to create something big. It is important that each part is maintained and looked after.
Good teams listen and good teams feel.