A few years ago, a research team at Google set out on a quest to figure out what makes teams successful. They code-named the study Project Aristotle, a tribute to the philosopher’s famous quote: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The research team analyzed dozens of teams and interviewed hundreds of executives, team leads, and team members. They found that a number of elements contributed to a team’s effectiveness–but the single greatest factor was that team members felt what is described as “psychological safety.”
“In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members,” wrote the researchers. “They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.”
Simply put, great teams thrive on trust.
Imagine each of your relationships as a bridge you build between yourself and another person. Any strong bridge must be built on a solid foundation–and for relationships, that foundation is trust. If we trust someone is looking after our best interests, we’ll do almost anything that person asks.
So, how do you build bridges of trust?
1. Listen carefully.
Listening has become a lost art. Many fall into the trap of simply “taking turns” speaking; as one person speaks, the other is already thinking about what they’re going to say next–without truly listening to the other person’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
Remember that listening is about learning. When others speak, resist the urge to judge, to interrupt and share your experience, or to try and solve a problem. Instead, strive to understand.
2. Show empathy.
Empathy is made up of three parts: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate.
Through careful listening (see point 1 above), you can understand how another person thinks and feels.
The next step is the most difficult: emotional empathy, or the ability to share another person’s feelings. To do this, ask yourself: When have I felt similar to what this person has described? How can I relate to that feeling?
For example, if someone is struggling, don’t think to yourself: “Well, I’ve had to struggle before, too. They just need to toughen up!” Instead, think of a time when you severelystruggled, to the point you couldn’t accomplish what you wanted. This helps you relate to the other person.
Now you’re ready to show compassionate empathy–by taking action to help however you can.
3. Ask questions.
When you show genuine interest in others, they’ll respond.
Ask general questions to get to know them better–questions about their background, their lives, their goals, their dreams. Don’t make them feel interrogated; be sincere.
Sometimes, your questions should be specific. In a meeting, for example, you might need to draw out more introverted personalities by asking them to share their thoughts on a specific topic or problem. Otherwise, the best ideas will remain hidden below the surface. It’s your job to unearth them.
4. Encourage others to ask questions.
Many of us are afraid to ask questions. We wonder: If I ask this, will others think I’m stupid?
Change that mentality from the get-go. Clearly state to your team that there are no dumb questions–that if one person is unclear, others probably are, too. Let them know that questions are a catalyst to clear and refined thinking.
By encouraging questions, you discourage a know-it-all culture, and promote a learn-it-all culture, instead.
5. Empower your team.
We all need a degree of freedom to work happily.
If you’re a team lead, make sure your people know they’re free to explore new ideas, to experiment, and to take risks. If you’re worried about them going too far, set appropriate boundaries. (Just be careful not to overdo it, lest you defeat the purpose).
This will allow you to manage effectively, without micromanaging.
6. Be a coach, not a problem solver.
If you solve every problem for your team as soon as it arises, you’ll miss out on golden opportunities to help them grow.
Instead, when others come to you for help, take advantage of teaching moments. Be willing to share your experience, but ask questions and get them to think in a way that allows you to guide, rather than take over.
This will help them develop the experience and confidence they need to solve similar problems in the future.
7. Commend sincerely and specifically.
When you commend others for what they’ve done well, you encourage them to do more of it. The more specific, the better: Tell them what you appreciate, and why.
And remember, people have different strengths, accomplishments, and potential. Learn to identify these for each individual, and you’ll bring out the best in everyone.
8. Make critical feedback constructive.
It’s not easy to give effective critical feedback–but it’s necessary if you want your people to grow.
So, make sure they know you’re on their side when sharing these thoughts. For example, after a presentation you might tell the person something you specifically enjoyed. Then, ask: “Can I share with you something that would make it even better next time?”
By making sure your counsel is upbuilding, you dignify the recipient, turn critical feedback from a negative to a positive–and earn their respect in the process.
9. Show concern for the “person,” not the “employee.”
People want you to see them as people, not employees, or “resources.” (Ahem.)
For example, one series of recent studies led research organization Gallup to conclude that the most effective managers use a combination of face-to-face, phone, and electronic communication to reach employees, and they return calls or messages within twenty-four hours. Additionally, Gallup found that most employees value communication from their managers about “what happens in their lives outside of work.”
All of this contributes to the feeling that the manager or team lead is invested in the employee as a real person. Just as important, it sends the message that people are your priority–and what’s important to them is important to you.