Soft Skills Matter Most for Top Employees

Syed Balkhi

In today's fast-paced technological world, "hard" skills like coding and data analysis get a lot of attention.

However, a recent study conducted by Google, named Project Aristotle, sheds light on a surprising truth: it's not just the "hard" skills that truly set the top employees apart—it's their soft skills.

This study delves into the essence of what makes a team not just effective but exceptional. It reveals that the most successful teams thrive not on individual brilliance but rather on a shared set of behavioral norms and unwritten rules that govern their interactions and collaborations.

These norms, often overlooked, have a profound impact on team performance, innovation, and, ultimately, the growth trajectory of an individual's career. So, let's dive in and uncover the soft skills defining top performers.

What is Project Aristotle?

Project Aristotle is a Google initiative aimed at studying team effectiveness. Led by researchers from the People Operations division, this study was based on data collected from hundreds of teams within Google over many years.

The goal of Project Aristotle was to understand how successful teams are formed and the characteristics that define them.

What they found was that it wasn't individual brilliance or technical mastery but rather the social elements of teams that made them successful.

The project identified a set of norms, or unwritten rules about how the members interact with each other, that are common to the most successful teams.

These norms could range from speaking over one another being viewed as rude to having a strict adherence to turn-taking being the norm.

Or speaking over each other could be a normal part of the conversation. This study showed that teams with an established set of norms perform better and are more likely to be successful than those without.

It also revealed that having a deep understanding of the individual team members' goals, differences, and personalities is key to creating an effective team.

Teams need to understand one another's strengths and weaknesses in order to leverage them in pursuit of a common goal.

What are the Key Characteristics of High-Performing Teams?

The study revealed that successful teams share some common characteristics:

  • Everyone on the team is open to new ideas and perspectives.
  • There's a sense of respect and trust between members.
  • The members feel comfortable voicing their opinions- There's an understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities.
  • And everyone is given the opportunity to contribute.
  • People feel like their work is making an impact that goes beyond their own personal renumeration.

These characteristics are essential to creating an atmosphere where team members can collaborate and innovate. By fostering openness, respect, and trust between members, teams create an environment where ideas can be shared freely and without fear of criticism or judgment.

This encourages creative thinking and collaboration, which often leads to the development of creative solutions. Additionally, when everyone on the team is given an equal chance to contribute, it allows every individual's unique strengths and talents to come together for a greater whole.

What are the Soft Skills Needed for Success?

These findings emphasize the importance of developing soft skills in order to achieve success.

Soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and teamwork, are essential tools for any team to reach its full potential.

The ability to communicate effectively is a key soft skill that sets the top employees apart. Being able to articulate their ideas clearly and thoughtfully helps team members stay in sync with one another's plans and objectives. They also need to be able to listen and understand the perspectives of others in order to collaborate effectively.

Moreover, problem-solving skills are necessary for teams to navigate complex issues that arise. Every team member needs to have an understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of their teammates, in order to develop creative solutions.

Finally, teamwork is essential for high-performing teams. This involves encouraging collaboration, transparency, and accountability among members. Everyone should feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their ideas, while also being willing to support the team's goals and objectives.

What These Findings Mean for Leaders

These findings provide important insight for leaders and organizations. Knowing what makes successful teams can help them to create an environment where everyone can thrive.

Leaders must prioritize cultivating team norms, such as creating a safe space to share ideas, fostering collaboration, and encouraging accountability among members without creating such stakes that people resort to blaming others for problems.

And this is a very top-down approach that you must not underestimate. It's the leadership that define a company culture through real examples and by embodying norms and practices. And so, their role and responsibilities are critical for driving innovation with the right culture.

Leaders also need to invest in training their employees on soft skills like communication and problem-solving. By providing the tools for their teams to succeed, leaders can ensure that their organizations reach their full potential.

Also, offer online courses, rotate leadership responsibilities, and check in at the right time to keep things flowing.

At the end of the day, soft skills are just as important as hard skills in achieving success. Teams need to focus on developing both sets of skills in order to optimize performance and growth. And leaders need to develop the right traits to lead people well. 

Understanding the significance of all these skills is the first step in creating a winning team.

What Companies Need to Do

Companies also need to create the right setups at the highest level to enable developing soft skills, better team dynamics, and the right culture where the norms for innovation thrive.

This means embracing diversity to bring together an array of perspectives, skills, and experiences that foster creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.

Businesses need to promote open-mindedness and acceptance, creating a conducive environment for collaboration and mutual respect, which are key to maintaining effective team norms.

Defining a company's values and mission is equally vital.

They serve as a guiding compass, directing both the leaders and their teams towards a shared purpose. A well-articulated mission provides clarity of the organization's goals and the path to achieve them, while the company values act as the behavioral blueprint for employees.

Aligning team norms with these values ensures that the team operates within the organization's ethical and cultural framework, thereby nurturing a harmonious work environment that is conducive to success.

However, these elements do not simply emerge in a vacuum. Leaders must take a proactive approach in promoting diversity and inclusivity and in clearly communicating the company's mission, values, and expectations.

Regular training sessions, team-building exercises, transparent communication channels, and employee engagement initiatives can play a pivotal role in instilling these critical elements into the team’s fabric.

By focusing on these areas, companies can build a robust setup that champions the best norms and practices, ultimately driving growth, innovation, and success.

Final Thoughts

In summary, Google Aristotle reveals that it’s not just technical mastery or individual brilliance that sets top employees apart—it’s the ability to collaborate, innovate, and problem-solve with a team. This means that organizations need to prioritize soft skills alongside hard ones when hiring and training employees.

The points in this article provide interesting and powerful ideas that individuals need to consider when building skills and seeking to grow in their careers.

So, apply these insights and work on fostering the right soft skills to excel in your teams. With the right tools, a culture of collaboration and innovation can be developed that will lead to true success.

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Syed Balkhi is on a mission to level the playing field for small businesses. 19+ million websites use his software to grow and compete with the big guys. 100+ million people read his blogs every year to grow their website traffic, sales, & conversion

West Palm Beach, FL

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