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Building The Perfect Team For Guided Peer Groups

Updated: Dec 17, 2018

In a recent New York Times article, Charles Duhigg tells the story of Project Aristotle – Google's exploration of three conclusions from Anita Woolley’s seminal 2008 study on teams. These conclusions have also inspired key design principles for our own methodology. Here at Circles, we know it’s important to be conscious about maintaining ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.” We call it equal air time. Conversation hogs and wallflowers both drain team energy. To make it easier, we’re including timers directly into our video interface for guided peer groups.

Teams with higher “social sensitivity” do better. A few years ago, Woolley’s study picked up headlines in 2010: a shortcut to achieving social sensitivity is to have more women on a team. We’re implementing these ideas in our sorting process.

Duhigg’s article sums it all up with the term “psychological safety.” When people are comfortable, they share truth. They have more fun, and are more engaged. They can drop their masks and enjoy being their “whole selves” at work, removing extra overhead and unlocking previously guarded energy and maybe even talents. There’s also evidence showing that they learn better, too. We’re trying different ways to produce psychological safety in each guided peer group. This is the idea behind our jell process for guided peer groups.

Ultimately, I find myself connecting these ideas to a bigger question, a question that can be asked many different ways, with many implications. If we help individuals feel “psychologically safe” at work, will they work harder? As a leader, is it better to be feared than loved? And then to zoom out, if social safety nets are too high, does productivity drop?

I think there are many narratives that motivate individuals. Do we rely too much on the consumerist story – work hard, grow your income, buy nice things, then retire and enjoy them? If you don’t, someone else will take your job, and you’ll be hungry and sad. That worked to produce growth throughout history. In fact, it’s lifting people out of poverty by the hundreds of millions in China right now. But in some contexts we can clearly see the absurdity and weakness of this narrative and it’s illustrated in Heinrich Böll’s “Anecdote Concerning the Lowering of Productivity”, in which the tourist suggests to the dozing fisherman that he work harder to produce more fish… so he could relax.

Psychological safety is required for optimal team performance. In his book Drive and TED Talk, Dan Pink argues that it’s also needed for optimal creativity. So it is on us to create new narratives beyond “work hard to get stuff done or get fired.” Mission is one such emerging narrative, and some think this is working well with millennials in particular. Maybe we can develop character traits like Angela Duckworth’s Grit or Josh Waitzkin’s incremental learning orientation – let’s learn to love the game.

Circles needs to help learners be more open and more driven in teams through guided peer groups.

So what are the implications of these micro philosophies in the macro world of global capitalism?

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