“A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations, but look what they can do when they stick together.”
– Author Unknown
How would you describe the strongest teams with the best ideas in corporate America?
Smart? Highly skilled? Highly paid? Expertly trained? Well educated?
Sure, you’d find individuals with these qualities among the teams. But if you guessed that these were the qualities most necessary for building the best teams in business, you’d be wrong.
We’d like to introduce you to the startlingly simple and profound findings of Google’s Project Aristotle, a multi-year project the company started in 2012 to examine why some teams thrived while others failed. The lessons learned from this project can be broken down into five essential qualities, with the first being the most essential:
1. Psychological Safety – After combing through decades of academic research about teams and then scrutinizing and surveying teams at Google over a period of years, the organizational psychologists, engineers and other researchers working on Project Aristotle came to some conclusions. More than anything else, a sense of psychological safety, or a shared belief that the team is a safe place for interpersonal risk-taking, was critical for making the team function effectively.
When team members feel safe with one another, they can be vulnerable in front of one another. Even when they disagree, they won’t be disagreeable. One member won’t throw another under the bus. This is so critical when we are looking for ways to connect and truly communicate with one another. Project Aristotle found that personality, skill sets, social status and educational background don’t matter when it comes to building a great team. What matters most is that each person feels valued and supported by the other members of their team.
Consider today’s NFL teams, which are comprised of some of the highest paid athletes, making millions upon millions of dollars a year. Many NFL players have very strong personalities and big egos. Because players are incented for sacks, tackles, catches and yards gained, each player has a strong motivation to succeed individually. When the ball is snapped, those individual goals can get in the way of a well-executed play, successful drive and ultimately that elusive win. The teams that make it to the playoffs and ultimately to the Super Bowl have learned to value each teammate, support each other and create safety within the team. It happens on the practice field, in the locker room, in the huddle and on the field. Which brings us to our next quality essential for a strong team, dependability.
2. Dependability – Strong teams get things done on time and meet high standards. Each member knows they can trust the others to do what they say they are going to do. At Institute Success, we tell leaders to always be impeccable with your word. And this is why: because your team is counting on you. They shouldn’t have to give a second thought to what you are doing at any given moment, because you’ll always do what you said you would. They need to know that when you are running down the field together, they can depend on you, just as you can depend on them. You are in this together.
3. Structure and Clarity – Team members must have a clear understanding of their goals. It starts at the top – leaders must define what success means to them and understand how each member of the team defines success to create a shared vision, and so every employee knows what’s expected of them in achieving that vision. Things are going to get sloppy if you are doing the Mambo and I’m doing the Cha-Cha. We need to be in alignment and learn how to come together. Trust – or, as Project Aristotle found, psychological safety – is the foundation.
4. Meaning – Work must be personally important to the team members. It is up to the leader to impart to his or her team the “why” behind what we do every day. What motivates us to get out of bed, to come into work? Remember, customers buy “you” before they ever buy what you are selling, so you need to have buy-in from your entire team and define your essential mission before you can present it to the outside world. We at Institute Success tell business owners and executives, a business is like a child; it is a living and breathing legal entity. We need to surround it with the appropriate caregivers, as we would a child. I can’t be incredibly successful by myself. I have a family at home and at a family at work. My family at work has my back when it comes to my business.
5. Impact – Leaders have a tremendous impact on their teams. Truly great leaders maximize their own strengths first so they can enroll others in a shared vision for success and inspire them to be at their best. Things are continually moving in life, and we need to keep learning and growing ourselves. We believe that it is essential to always “ASK” of others — this stands for Always Seek Knowledge. When we share what we know with each other, we can create magnificence, much like the snowflakes in the opening quote. That’s how you get to the Superbowl.
For more purposeful leadership, check out The Engaged Leader Program. We’ll show you how to create your own vision of success and learn how to enroll your team in that shared vision. We’ll teach you 78 core leadership competencies to help you become an even more exceptional leader. You will also have the opportunity to learn and grow alongside other like-minded leaders.
Here’s to your success!
Institute Success Tip: Every day, ask yourself “What does it look like to be at my best?” Remember that the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.