Back at it

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IMG_0025 IMG_0025 Good morning everyone, and welcome back to work! We hope you had a great holiday weekend, that you presently have all your fingers at toes, or at least a plurality, and that you have your pets scheduled for therapy after a long, traumatic weekend of neighbors setting off explosions.

Returning to work after a holiday weekend can be a good time to take a look at the stuff that’s been on the desk for way too long: should it be addressed, or discarded? It’s the email in-box equivalent of cleaning the fridge. For those of you who have never cleaned the fridge, there are tutorials on YouTube.

And speaking of links, and of things that have sat on the desk for a long time, this morning might be a good time to re-visit or read for the first time this article that ran in February’s New York Times magazine called “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.

The Harvard Business Review found that “time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more” over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spend communicating with colleagues.
That might sound pretty familiar to many of you reading this. What seems kind of crazy, though, is that if “collaborating with your co-workers” takes up so much of your day, why is it assumed that everyone knows how to do it? That it will be easy? Why isn’t more thought put into making those collaborations go well? No one would expect you to use your company’s software without suitable guidance. So where is the equivalent training or orientation for being part of a team?

The whole article is worth a read. Some of the take-aways that lingered with me and Greg (who read it separately and compared notes, something co-workers who collaborate might do from time to time) were that, when looking at successful teams at different companies across different disciplines, they didn’t have very much in common as far as team make-up or the individual members. In other words, just adding more PhDs/community organizers/people with Flemish ancestry/etc doesn’t make a team work better. (Though I have a suspicion that adding more left-handed people will make everything better. That’s just a hunch though).

Rather, it was group norms that was the best success predictor. Here’s what that means, in simple terms:
  • In the best teams, all members of the team spoke roughly the same amount (communication)
  • The best teams had higher average social sensitivity (empathy)
(For more on empathy, by the way, I recently got misty watching this clip from Bren√© Brown that was linked to in the newsletter of my good friend and mentor Tom Henschel. The video is only 3 minutes long, and Tom’s podcast, The Look and Sound of Leadership, is well worth subscribing to.)

Psychological safety is another characteristic commonly found in successful teams, whether in business, government, military, or community or the arts: if the members of the team believe they are free to take risks with one another, the opportunities for success multiply. This makes sense, of course: how many good ideas have died on the lips of someone who didn’t feel they’d be safe to propose it, in case it turned out to be foolish? No one likes to be singled out, and if the team isn’t sufficiently welcoming, the possibilities for good ideas being expressed dwindles.

Also of interest were the discoveries that clear goals and a culture of dependability increased the efficacy of teams. As experts in team building games, we tend to view all these business affairs through that lens. The programs we bring our clients are tailored to be a drill, of sorts, for professionals: the goal of the game is clearly stated, whether it’s finding clues hidden around the Santa Monica Pier, or scoring the most points before the time is up. With an (artificially) constricted timeline and challenges that span multiple disciplines, the team must rely on the combined skills, and dependably deliver in diverse categories to achieve the clearly stated goal.

Time and again, in heavily funded and researched articles like this one and in our own empirical perspective on the business world, we see the same patterns play out: we want to know the people we’re working with really hear us when we talk, and we want to know that our work is more than just labor.

With half the year behind us, consider what your 2016 resolutions were for improving how the team works together. With summer weather upon us, consider getting out of the office to strengthen those bonds. To learn more about how we can help improve your team, hit us up.

What were your reactions to the article?
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