Soft Skills Make for the Best STEM Employees
Google's Project Aristotle uncovered that the best employees had STEM skills featured last in their abilities and what this means for rising in STEM-based careers.
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When it comes to career building, people in STEM focus on their technical abilities above all else. Often scoffing at the notion of building 'soft' skills like better communication, interpersonal skills, negotiation, and so on.
And part of the problem might be in the name. Calling something as complex as managing work politics, motivating a team to work together, and growing in your career while maintaining good work relationships is badly called 'soft.'
While having technical skills is critical, they can only get you so far. Think of it this way: Your technical abilities may get you through the door and a little more. But for you to steadily rise in your career, whether you opt to move up the corporate ladder or start your own business, you need to have other skills.
If there's a convincing argument for building your soft skills, it's the project set up by Google in 2012 and the findings it shared with the world: Project Aristotle.
With 'Excellence' as its benchmark, Google is well-known for striving to create the best. In pursuit of understanding what makes its best teams perform as well as they do, it launched a study into its workgroups and teams to understand what drove the top-performing groups.
They determined the effectiveness of teams based on three perspectives:
- Of team leaders who sought a balance between achieving business goals and individual team members' needs for a good work culture
- That of individuals who care about a good environment
- That of leaders who focused on the overall vision and larger objectives of the company
- Quarterly sales results
Now, let's look at the findings and what it means for people seeking STEM careers, especially for those who want to boost productivity, grow in their companies, and drive results.
The Characteristics of Effective Teams (And What That Means for You)
Interestingly, the researchers of the study could not find any discernable patterns at the beginning of the study. They could not find any relationship between personal characteristics like extroversion, introversion, backgrounds, technical skills, and so on, and team effectiveness.
Instead, what emerged that 'norms' or quietly agreed-upon standards of behavior played a critical role.
For example, avoiding disagreements in meetings could be a silent norm. Or speaking over each other could be a norm. Essentially, norms are practices in groups. They are how people treat each other and are typically unconsciously driven but powerful nevertheless.
Here are the main norms that researchers uncovered that factored into the best teams' performances:
- Psychological safety: How safe you and other individuals feel in your teams. Can you speak without being interrupted? Do you listen to everyone? Does everyone take turns speaking, and can they bring up personal issues (appropriate to the scene)? When teams have psychological safety, more ideas get shared, and the group becomes collectively intelligent. You can build your skills in this area by practicing active listening and speaking up.
- Dependability: In high-performing teams, members consistently deliver quality work on time, demonstrating a strong sense of responsibility and accountability. Trust and dependability serve as the foundation for effective collaboration and successful outcomes. You want to build your own dependability by learning time management and productivity skills.
- Structure and clarity: Effective teams have clarity in terms of job expectations, processes, and performance consequences, i.e., rewards or penalties. Learn how to set individual goals or team goals that meet overall business goals. You also want your goals to be reasonable and well-thought-out.
- Meaning: Personal meaning in your work is a powerful motivator. The sense of purpose can be financial security, contributing to team success, supporting your family, or fulfilling your creative dreams. Look for ways to find meaning in your tasks or seek work where your technical STEM skills overlap with something that gives you meaning. For example, consider a software developer creating a new mobile app. Finding meaning in the project could stem from the belief that the app will improve people's lives or simplify daily tasks, adding value to users' experiences and contributing to their own sense of fulfillment.
- Impact: The ability to witness the real-world impact of one's work is a common aspiration. It's important to understand how what you do aligns with your organization's broader goals. Companies that showcase this will find it easy to inspire people and meet goals. For you, this could mean actively tracking your work and linking it to outcomes. Even making notes in a spreadsheet can help you give your career a boost as you start to build a visible portfolio or body of work.
As you can see, a lot of what makes teams great depends on how individuals work together. Learning things like listening, having personal meaning from your work, trying to create an impact, and so on matter immensely to driving productivity. And not only productivity but innovation and creativity.
Whatever field you choose to get into as a STEM professional, if you're serious about growth, then you have to realize that technical skills are only part of the solution.
True creativity, innovation, and productivity (as well as professional success in your career) are possible when you work effectively in teams, which leads to great team performance.
And this means learning to build those skills that allow you to function in the most collaborative work groups. Take up active listening and speaking vulnerably to connect better with your team. Find meaning in what you do and try to create an impact with your work.
Also, seek work conditions or drive work cultures that embody the message of Project Aristotle. And you should see satisfying growth in your work and personal life.
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