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Blog // Creativity
February 26, 2016

Finding Success In Groups And Teamwork

Charles Duhigg has an excellent piece in this week’s New York Times, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, looking at Google’s research into what makes work groups successful. Google prides itself on being able to crunch data and find trends. But, they got stuck trying to figure out what configuration […]

Charles Duhigg has an excellent piece in this week’s New York Times, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, looking at Google’s research into what makes work groups successful. Google prides itself on being able to crunch data and find trends. But, they got stuck trying to figure out what configuration of people makes for the optimal work group. Until their researchers realised that it wasn’t the kind of people in the group that mattered as much as the values the group embodied.

Google found that empathy, sympathy and something psychologists call emotional safety, were more crucial to the success of a group. The human element, the desire to connect, be vulnerable, be heard is, perhaps not surprisingly, a crucial prerequisite for people to engage in a group project with all their energy, passion and creativity.

“What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that 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. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.”

Of course we all know, when we feel like our ideas and contributions are valued, taken seriously, and respected, we become more likely to speak up, take risks, and devote ourselves. Equally, when we fear being rejected, mocked, or criticised, we are less likely to speak, less likely to show passion, less likely to push ourselves to get involved.

“…when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.”

While these insights come from work groups, they really apply to anything we try to do collaboratively with other people. As creatives and artists are prone to believing that talent is the most important thing. Partly because trying to master our craft, trying to make work that people will notice forces us to chase talent with everything we have, especially early on in our career.

But, we never get away from having to think about the environment we create around us, for family, friends, clients, co-workers, collaborators and customers. We can never afford to stop being human.

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