How empathy can have huge impact on teams


Recently Steve sent me this article about how teams at Google are built and I just wanted to share some of my favourite parts of it with you.

The article from The New York Times is a great example of some of the problems that people have in teams and it also offers some very practical ideas for solving those.

Probably the best place to start is this description of Julia Rozovsky’s study group at Yale:

Rozovsky’s study group was a source of stress. ‘‘I always felt like I had to prove myself,’’ she said. The team’s dynamics could put her on edge. When the group met, teammates sometimes jockeyed for the leadership position or criticized one another’s ideas. There were conflicts over who was in charge and who got to represent the group in class. ‘‘People would try to show authority by speaking louder or talking over each other,’’ Rozovsky told me. ‘‘I always felt like I had to be careful not to make mistakes around them.’’

This is a theme that we see time and time again at doopoll. We speak to people all the time who struggle to communicate with their team, colleagues or community because they are worried about being judged by the group.

But we also see that when teams communicate more effectively and openly without fear of reprisal, the results are surprisingly good:

The members of her case-competition team had a variety of professional experiences: Army officer, researcher at a think tank, director of a health-education nonprofit organization and consultant to a refugee program. Despite their disparate backgrounds, however, everyone clicked. They emailed one another dumb jokes and usually spent the first 10 minutes of each meeting chatting. When it came time to brainstorm, ‘‘we had lots of crazy ideas,’’ Rozovsky said.

A collaborative culture = healthy teams

The New York Times suggests that groups find a natural dynamic
The New York Times suggests that groups find a natural dynamic

The article goes on to talk about the economic benefits of team work:

In a 2015 study, executives said that profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more. Within companies and conglomerates, as well as in government agencies and schools, teams are now the fundamental unit of organization. If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together.

This is great. Teams make things happen. At doopoll, we believe that consensus facilitates change. But what if you can’t get that consensus? How do you know you’re putting the right people together? What if there’s a personality clash?

Well, the Times has some things to say about that too.

A few years ago, Google, the masters of everyone’s data set out the ambitious and terrifyingly named project Aristotle to try to find out what makes teams tick. They did all kinds of testing and over a period of time, they gathered the data and began to do what Google do best: organise results!

Finding a correlation

But according to the NYT, they really struggled to find any kind of pattern at all between why some teams failed and some succeeded. Meanwhile, Rozovsky and her team found that groups are more likely to function with group norms rather than a collection of individual norms.

One team may come to a consensus that avoiding disagreement is more valuable than debate; another team might develop a culture that encourages vigorous arguments and spurns groupthink. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently — but when they gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team.

This is pretty interesting when you consider the amount of time that people put into building working groups or teams according to all kinds of psychometric tests.

Three qualities every team must have

But here’s our favourite part. More than any other quality or strategy, researchers found that teams most likely to succeed were those comprised of people:

  1. Who value one another or
  2. are able to listen to the opinions of others
  3. and react to the thoughts of their respected colleagues

The right norms, in other words, could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all the members were exceptionally bright.

Listening to what your team has to say and using that to define what you’re going to do next is, according to all the quotes and anecdotal evidence we see day to day, vitally important to success.

Imagine the wealth of information that your team is holding. Imagine what they could do with that if they only learned to value one another’s opinion and work together to build good solutions to big problems.

Check the article out here if you’d like to read more