In the dictionary they define the word team as a number of persons associated together in work or activity. A number of persons associated together in work or activity. That’s what a team is. Unless you’re a hermit, you’re part of a team. You are most likely part of numerous teams. If you have parents, you’re part of a team right there. If you have siblings, you’re part of another team. If you’re married, marriage is a team. If you have children, if you have friends, if you work with other people, all of these are teams.
And there is a major question that I think every single human being asks numerous times in their life and that is, What makes a good team? What’s the key to a good team?
When I am looking for a spouse to make a good marriage team, am I supposed to look for someone who thinks like me or should I look for someone who thinks differently than me? Should I look for someone who likes the things that I like or likes things differently than what I like? Someone who has a similar personality or a different personality? And, actually, what’s very fascinating is, just a few years ago Google launched a research project called project Aristotle. And the objective of this project was to figure out what makes a good team. And this was very important to Google because they have many many teams. And so they had many teams to actually work with in trying to research and figure out what is the secret to a good team.
And here is what they discovered, that all of the conventional things that everyone says makes a good team, guess what, does not, is not the secret behind what is a good team.
The who part of the equation, that means who are the members of the team, didn’t really seem to matter. They looked at groups where the entire group was made up of introverts, that didn’t necessarily make up a better team because they found some groups where everyone was introverts which were not a good team. And they had some groups where everyone was extroverts,which were not necessarily a good team or sometimes were a good team. Where all of the members of a team were friends, that didn’t necessarily always prove to be or produce a good team. And so what they found is that the who’s, the people, if you’re putting certain types of people together, that didn’t really produce a good team.
They looked into team norms and they discovered this didn’t matter either. What are team norms? Well, where you have people that don’t ‑‑ they have a rule, there’s a team norm that we never argue, we are not allowed to argue on this team. Well, they had some groups that had certain team norms where they functioned well but there were other groups who had the same team norms and that group did not function well. There are some team ‑‑ there was some team norms where they always argued because you need to argue to work things out. There were some team norms where they would never interrupt someone else who was talking. There were other teams that had the norm of always being able to interrupt because you can say whatever you need to say. The bottom line is, none of these proved to be the secret behind a good team.
And they investigated until they found the secret to a good team. The revelation is profound. I would think that in the Talmud we have precedent for this already. But it’s important that we have this modern day study because it brings it to the surface again and I can use it to confirm to you what Judaism teaches. And that is they found that what a team needs in order to be a powerful team is psychological safety. Wow. Psychological safety. Well, what does that even mean? Psychological safety essentially means that every person can show up in front of the rest of the team and they truly know that they are safe to be who they are, share the feelings that they have, the ideas that they have, make the recommendations that they have and know that that will not diminish them at all. They are simply safe in this environment, in this space, in this container which is created by the team.
In fact, I would say that every human being seeks this more than anything else in their life, and that is a space, a container where we can truly be ourselves safely because we know that people will not think less of us because of who we are. And then we don’t have to hide, we don’t have to put up an image, we don’t ‑‑ we don’t become quiet in the team, amongst the team and not share an idea because we are scared of what everyone is going to think, where we can truly shine as being who we are.
You know, every Friday night at our Shabbat table I ask a question and we go around the table and the many people there answer the question. And it’s like a question sort of like, If you were able to ask one question of G‑d, what would you ask him? And we go around the table and everyone says different things. And sometimes it’s very interesting, someone will say something, they’ll say, Okay, I would ask G‑d whatever it is. And someone else will say, Well, why would you ask G‑d that? And I remind the questioner that we’re not here to question everyone’s answers. We’re here to give everyone an opportunity to share what they would ask. And they’re just sharing what they would genuinely ask. Whether you like it or don’t like it really is irrelevant, this is their reality.
We need to create a space for people to be able to at least acknowledge to themselves what they would ask G‑d or what it is that’s on their mind. And we go around the table and ask people a question like, Define good. That could be very contentious. People define good in very different ways. And, of course, there is even the way Judaism defines good. But that’s not the time for me to impose that on someone else. People are sharing what they’re feeling. And that is giving them a space to be themselves for a moment. And there’s nothing more beautiful than letting people be themselves.
And you know what? In Hebrew I would say that this is simply what we call a Ahavat Israel. Loving your fellow Jew. Loving your fellow Jew simply means letting them be who they are and appreciating that they can be who they are.
What did Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Jewish sages of all time who lived about just under 2,000 years ago, what did he mean when he said that the passage in the Torah which says, V’ahavata l’reacha kamocha, love your fellow as yourself, his comment on that statement was, This is a great principle in the Torah. That was his comment.
What do you mean ‑‑ he didn’t say that about anything else in the Torah, only about this, This is a great principle in the Torah. Because when we create this opportunity for another person, we are creating fertile ground for this person to blossom and to grow. There is nothing greater. And this is probably our main responsibility in a marriage to give our spouse this space, that when they share what they feel or an opinion, that they are not always cut down for it. They’re not always shut down but they are simply accepted and I say, I hear you. Maybe we would even make the effort to try to understand them. There is nothing more powerful than a child being raised in an environment where he’s not being shut down for feeling or thinking something that makes the parent uncomfortable, that when the child shares what they feel, Okay, that’s what you feel. I mean, how often do we tell our kids, you shouldn’t think that way or you don’t feel this after they told us what they think or how they feel, which is simply just teaching the child slowly they are in a world where they are not accepted for who they are and they better start putting on a show.
There’s a most profound statement that our Rabbis teach us which is ain kli machazik beracha ela hashalom. There is no vessel, container, there’s no container that can receive blessing other than peace. Peace is created when we can embody being a powerful team player.
So I want to leave you with these questions: Do we know how to create a psychologically safe place for another person? Do we know how to do that? How would our lives be different if we learned how to create a safe place for another? How different would our marriage, our children, our workplace, our friends be if we can simply create a space for them to feel free to be themselves? And how are our lives affected by not being able to create a safe place for another?
We all must become powerful team players.