An excellent New York Times article, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, identifies essential elements in this quest—showing empathy and caring for one another.
Doing this, as one Google manager says, means “We (can) talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy.”
As leaders where do we start in building our own high performing team?
The first step may be the most difficult–we need to let down our guard and show our vulnerabilities.
While we risk criticism for letting down our guard or being vulnerable, as the team leader, we are also creating a safe space for others on the team to know it’s okay to do the same. Only after everyone’s guard is down (again, starting with ours first) can we start building a high performing team.
Google’s high performers have ‘hard conversations’ with one another simply because doing otherwise would adversely affect the team’s performance. Period. And, since the team members trust and care for one another,‘hard conversations’ are provided in the form of constructive criticism. In other words, it’s not personal.
Conversely, low performing teams tiptoe around a poor performer for fear of hurting the team member’s feelings.With these team members criticism is (or can be) considered personal. Things are better left unsaid. Of course, the problem is never addressed adequately and,over time,festers. Low performing teams don’t hold one another accountable simply because they don’t trust or care for one another.
This may sound a bit squishy but think of it this way: We trust our partners and family members most when we know all sides of them—warts and all. We still love them despite their warts, just as they still love us despite ours.
Incredibly, Google, a super competitive employer in a super competitive industry, found its highest performing teams had team members who, basically, cared for and trusted one another.
The same holds true for any of us on our teams—when we allow ourselves to be seen as fully human, ‘warts and all’–emanating empathy, showing trust, revealing our vulnerabilities– we are performing at our very best. Just ask Google.