The Importance Of Teams And Why The Best Leaders Cultivate Them

Source | INC42 : By Mark Suster

I was watching my favourite show on TV this morning — GPS (Global Public Square) with Fareed Zakaria. It is a hugely compelling show because Zakaria covers world issues that will affect all of us in ways that are accessible and with frameworks for processing disparate information. He brings knowledgeable experts from varying points of view but never books anybody that engages in yelling matches.

The show has become my best curator of which books to read (including my favorite of last year, The Accidental Superpower) and my go to for understanding geopolitics of Russia, Iran, Pakistan, China, India, and of course the US. But they also take on issues in science, technology and management. Essentially it’s a replacement for reading The Economistevery week (which I would do if I could find more time!).

This particular show took on the topic of “teams” and highlighted the research that Julia Rozovsky and Google has conducted called Project Aristotle and profiled in Charles Duhigg’s book Smarter, Faster, Better. I haven’t read the book nor deeply reviewed Project Aristotle but the conversation on this morning’s show really resonated with me.

Rozovsky basically said that having studied 180 teams at Google over the past several years and trying to determine what made some teams perform better than others (despite every team being filled with over-achievers who work at Google) one factor stood out more than others: Creating “psychologically safe environments.”

The idea is that teams that allow everybody to speak, allow dissent, encourage safe discussions where it’s ok to be wrong — succeed more.

I’m recounting this from having watched the show and I’m going to spend some more time reading about Project Aristotle. But the conversation rang very true for me.

Why Great Teams Matter

It’s stating the obvious to say that great teams matter and that cultivating them will drive higher company performance versus a group of individual contributors. But in my experience, it’s surprising at how little time we as investors and as board members and startups as management teams spend thinking about how to create the best team dynamics.

My observation is that many companies become Game of Thrones with warring factions and competing interests. It is not uncommon for founders to fight amongst themselves or teams to develop silos that simply can’t stomach talking with other groups so they avoid human contact and revert to flaming wars on email or Slack.

I have a board meeting coming up this week and I just reviewed the agenda. My first reaction was to wonder why no time was allocated to discussing the executive team, how people were getting along, any conflicts that exist and whether any changes would be required. In fact, I’d observe that most board meetings don’t on this important topic. Increasingly I find myself engaging executive coaches at companies and trying to help executive teams get 360-degree feedback.

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