Earlier this year, the New York Times Sunday magazine ran a series of articles about the future of work, including one by the incomparable Charles Duhigg on how Google went about discovering the qualities of the perfect team. I wasn’t surprised that Google’s findings confirm the work of my consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight: The perfect team sits together after a meeting has ended talking about “other stuff.” What does that mean? It means they are connected by something other than the work they are committed to accomplishing. It means they care about one another both in and beyond the work context.
And how does that quality within a team stimulate innovation? There is plenty of research to support the fact that teams work best when everyone has an equal voice and feels equally supported. Too often the very people with the knowledge essential to staying competitive in a field of business are not empowered to speak in meetings where conversation flows upward to management.
On the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn.’’ – Charles Duhigg
For everyone to have an equal voice, though, they must be comfortable enough to raise that voice. An environment of acceptance lowers inhibition, which increases the abstract thinking essential to innovation. In short, if your team isn’t comfortable enough to stay after the meeting and talk about the latest season of Game of Thrones or the new X-Men movie, they’re not likely to be a team where every voice is heard on the disruptive forces at work in your field of business.
My own team understands this implicitly and has coached to it for over a decade. We focus on experiential learning to change the behaviors of essential teams so that all the expertise potentially available in a team is activated. Through constant, meticulous iteration of coaching that unleashes the vulnerability and candor essential to teams that are open and honest with one another, we demolish the compartmentalization that reduces each team member to rise merely to the height of his or her role. When teams work in service of each other, constantly answering the question: How can our team excel—not just myself in my role— deadlines become obsolete and innovation triumphs. The result is measurable, sustainable value to business results.
This is the heart of innovation. This diversity of voices, both in life and work experience, strengthens your output because it accounts for weaknesses and blind spots, expanding the scope of your business vision. But this equal playing field is not without its challenges. Managers need to be willing to give up some control to support members in speaking up about an idea that, while beneficial, could also be difficult for that manager to hear.
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. – Charles Duhigg
Without trust, without everyone feeling safe, communication becomes so much noise, but through developing those personal bonds, no matter how small they may seem at first, teammates become individuals who care about one another and become vested in everyone rising higher together. And the only way to feel that solidarity is through knowing the whole person you’re working with, rather than the work function he or she represents.
The paradox, of course, is that Google’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs. – Charles Duhigg
In the end, a “perfect team” is one that attends to its members most basic needs: to be open, honest and to have a voice that is heard.
This article first appeared on Keith’s Linkedin blog. To get the latest from Keith, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.