Recently, the New York Times published an article about a study Google did called “Project Aristotle.” Examining 180 different teams across Google and charting every factor imaginable from team demographics to motivations, the study endeavored figure out what makes a team successful.
The outcome of the study showed that the two most important behaviors for effective teams are:
1) Team members speak in roughly the same proportion, conversational turn-taking.
2) Teams have high average social sensitivity and are skilled in intuiting how other people feel.
The result of these two behaviors is that the team is seen as a safe space for risk-taking.
When I read the results of the study, my mind immediately went to Restorative Practices. Restorative Practices ensure equal voice by giving each person the opportunity to share his/her story with the active attention of the group. Facilitators are trained to create balance in a circle by ensuring conversational turn-taking. Restorative Practices also teach empathy. By taking the time to hear a person’s story, their thoughts and experiences, we learn to observe and understand the emotional states of others and to respond appropriately.
Restorative Practices are key to building and maintaining healthy relationships in communities, including your work community. When relationships are prioritized through equal voice and empathy, the capacity of the team to work effectively and creatively grows. In many ways, this finding is intuitive. We all know from experience that when we are part of teams where we feel safe, heard and understood, we are capable of producing our best work. But it is cool that Google’s very extensive study confirmed it!
If you work with a community of people, I encourage you to take the time to build relationships with your team through Restorative Practices. One simple activity you can implement right away is the Connection Circle. The Connection Circle is a great way to start a staff meeting or introduce team members at the beginning of a project. As relationships form, the question asked in the Connection Circle can become more personal. Please find activity instructions below.
Connection Circle Instructions
Objective: Practice equal voice and empathy in the group by having each participant answer a relationship-building question.
Instructions: Participants sit in one large group circle. The facilitator holds a talking piece of his/her choosing. The talking piece should have some sort of significance or meaning for the facilitator. The facilitator first establishes the ground rules of the circle.
- You can pass, but we will come back to you, you don’t have to answer the question
- Person with the talking piece gets everyone’s full attention
Once the ground rules have been established, the facilitator will ask a question to the group and will start the circle by either passing the talking piece right or left or asking someone to volunteer to get the circle started. The facilitator will be the last person in the circle to share. Participants will then each answer the question that has been posed.
Examples of connection circle questions:
- If you could go back in history and spend a day with anyone, who would it be and what would you do together for the day?
- What makes you feel protected or safe?
- If you could have a superpower, what would it be and what would be your first act?
- What is something someone else (i.e. your partner or a friend) would say you do better than anyone else?
The circle finishes with the facilitator answering the question and explaining the significance of the talking piece. When possible, the facilitator draws a connection between the talking piece and his/her personal response to the question that was asked.
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