Charles Duhigg, a freelance writer, published an article in New York Times about Julia Rosovsky’s Project Aristotle, a Google search for the perfect team.  It’s a fascinating and detailed sketch of what constitutes an empathic, functional team, found in The New York Times: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team (2016).

Julia Rosovsky personified what eventually became one of the characteristics of the perfect team – her curiosity.  Her questioning search left nothing unturned as Duhigg so keenly laid out in his NYT article. There was nothing that was missed in her tireless curiosity for details.  For her, nothing was a problem that she didn’t convert to a challenge, using Aristotle’s principle: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

This relentless curiosity facilitated her capacity for endless learning that sought insightful understanding of varied perspectives of a challenge, unafraid of opposing opinions, and ever ready to admit to being wrong or uninformed.  Her search was based on Google’s burning question: What makes a team effective?

Two characteristics that top the list of team requirements are deep respect for colleagues and the skill of listening with the heart.  This evokes the input of Amy Edmondson’s psychological safety.

A shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking – and models the effects of team psychological safety and team efficacy together learning and performance in organizational work teams.”

Psychological safety is based on the deep respect members of a team have for one another.  For a team, there is no such thing as a “dumb question” or “stupid idea.” Webster dictionary defines respect as regard for another person whom one holds in high esteem.  This attitude toward colleagues lends team members the freedom to share thoughts without risk of negative judgment, an environment essential for an innovative  flow of thought.

Skillful listening with the heart is the important attitude of humility a person lends to communication.  When one is grounded in humility, there is openness to different perspectives with a minimum of biases, if none were possible.  Developing deep respect for opposing opinions and listening with the heart give a team a productive atmosphere of genuine creativity and innovation.

Re:Work with Google provides an excellent description of efficacy, efficiency, and effectiveness of the empathic team in their guide: Understand team effectiveness.  It is likewise here that one finds the five keys to a successful google team.  For convenience, the five keys are briefly listed in this blog but can be found directly in the website.  Both the NYT article by Charles Duhigg and the Re:Work Google guide are the reader’s most informative sources for capturing the outstanding characteristics of the empathic team.

The five keys to a successful team are:

  1. Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
  3. Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

There is no doubt that this blog is loaded with heavy thoughts and information.  Nevertheless, the hope of the writer is that these lengthy insights into what makes an empathic team can be simple and briefly summarized in the following take-away:

Teams should be characterized as

  • Curious with persistent questions
  • Able to take a problem and convert it into a challenge
  • Open to learning and understanding different perspectives
  • Open to being wrong
  • Able to develop deep respect for opposing opinions
  • Can listen with your hearts as well as your ears!