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Be present, be effective on a team

I just finished reading the New York Times article: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.

In typical Google nature, they attempted to solve a "human" problem through patterns and statistics. A company initiative, titled "Project Aristotle" was formed to analyze hundreds of Google's internal teams. The goal was to identify characteristics that made up a successful team. As the research progressed, researchers struggled to identify clear trends:

The data didn't offer clear verdicts. In fact, the data sometimes pointed in opposite directions. The only thing worse than not finding a pattern is finding too many of them.

Eventually, two qualities emerged. The makeup of a team could be very different (group friends vs. acquaintances, experienced vs. not experienced, social vs. down-to-business, etc.) but if the team shared these two qualities, they tended to be an effective group:

  1. All members speak in roughly same proportion.
  2. Members able to intuitively discern how others feel based nonverbal cues (tone of voice, facial expression, body language, etc.).

Consider this quote from the article:

A worker today might start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers, then send emails to colleagues marketing a new brand, then jump on a conference call planning an entirely different product line, while also juggling team meetings with accounting and the party-planning committee. To prepare students for that complex world, business schools around the country have revised their curriculums to emphasize team-focused learning.

We live in a fast-paced world. You constantly move from one task to the next. From one meeting to another. You probably are thinking about the next meeting while in the current one. This directly conflicts with your responsibility of contributing to create an effective team.

An effective team has members that speak in roughly the same proportion and are aware of the nonverbal cues of other members. In order to do this, you must be present in the meeting. Your attention must be with what is happening at that moment, not what you expect to happen later.

If you are present, you can recognize  when  you are talking too much. You can identify the person who hasn't gotten a chance to contribute and bring them into the conversation. You can recognize when someone slumps their shoulders and isn't happy with how the meeting is going. By being present you can do the things that members of an effective team do, and therefore make your team effective.

The article mentions how business schools have revised their curriculums to prepare students for "team-focused learning". Instead, business schools should spend more time teaching students to be present. Teach the importance of controlling emotions. How to be the opposite of impulsive in moments of conflict. How to read people. And the importance of taking one step at a time.

The book smarts needed to navigate the "complex business world" can be picked up through  experience. But unless someone shows you the value and importance of being present, you may tumble through a career of stress and angst, and not even know of a better way.