Last week I had the chance to participate a day of panel interviews for the 11th class of Acumen Global Fellows. It’s always a great day, a chance to meet exceptional people who are devoting their lives to social change. (It is strange, though, how they seem to get younger every year….)
It’s an intense process, with pitches, a panel interview, case studies and a group activity. The group activity stood out for me this year as a chance to see six super-productive people try to become an effective team quickly. Some groups do this incredibly well, others crash and burn, most are somewhere in the middle.
It strikes me that in professional contexts we naturally focus on two areas: the skills, capabilities and leadership qualities of individuals; and these same folks’ capacity and effectiveness as managers. This is the stuff that appears in the goals we set and the content we write up in annual performance reviews.
“Teaming” is notably absent. It appears in peripheral ways, in conversations about how people interact with one another and how they manage, but what it takes to be a great team member feels like it lurks in the background when, really, it’s probably the most important thing we do.
(If you don’t believe me, take a few groups of your top people, give them a 20 minute task to perform, and watch the divergence in their results.)
In an effort to take this head on, recently I spent some time with the Acumen team in Nairobi and we took 90 minutes to discuss three pieces that I shared with them a few days before the meeting:
- NY Times: What Google Learned From its Quest to Build the Perfect Team
- ReWork: The Five Keys to a Successful Google Team
- Seth Godin’s Blog: A Manifesto for Small Teams Doing Important Work (which I shared with blog readers a little while back)
The Google articles focus on the notion of “psychological safety” in teams and what it takes to build it, and shares their data that one characteristic of highly effective teams is that members of these teams tend to contribute equally to most conversations. And Seth, as usual, finds a way to share these and many other powerful ideas in one-tenth the words of everyone else.
I’d encourage you to share these articles with your teams and hold similar conversations. I’d also appreciate suggestions – in the comments – on additional articles on teaming that you’ve found particularly helpful.