Over the weekend, the New York Times Magazine, published its Work issue – a visually appealing, data-rich, and heavily tech-oriented series of articles on modern professional work life.
The cover story examines a recent HR initiative at Google that sought to answer the question: What makes some teams successful, and others not?
And I loved, loved, loved their findings.
In a nutshell, Google found that the two factors that make teams successful are:
1) Conversation Turn-Taking
First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. ‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ Woolley said. ‘‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’
Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. One of the easiest ways to gauge social sensitivity is to show someone photos of people’s eyes and ask him or her to describe what the people are thinking or feeling — an exam known as the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. People on the more successful teams in Woolley’s experiment scored above average on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. They seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams, in contrast, scored below average. They seemed, as a group, to have less sensitivity toward their colleagues.
What’s striking to me about these findings is how much it says about the importance of listening.
I wrote a post a couple months a couple months back: Are You Guilty of Having One-Way Conversations? in which I tried to get at this point.
Can it really just boil down to being good listeners? What about other factors like: leadership, initiative, curiosity, intelligence, relevant knowledge or expertise?
Yes, those things are all important too, but what this study tells me is that without good listening between group members, all these other factors don’t amount to much. These are qualities at the individual level, and their benefits are negated if the group isn’t functioning well through good listening.
Read the whole story here. What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.
It’s an especially great read for managers who want to build positive, productive, and effective teams.