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Russell Smith

A recent post on the website of The Washington Post discusses the results of a recent study completed by Google. The study – Project Aristotle – examined the productivity and creativity of Google teams in an effort to determine what made some teams more effective than others. This was a natural follow-up to an earlier study, Project Oxygen, which examined what qualities and behaviors helped make a great manager.

The results of Project Oxygen indicate that the qualities and behaviors most important for a great manager do not place a priority on technical expertise and knowledge. Instead, the most important qualities revolve around inter-personal skills such as coaching, communication, empathy, understanding, and supportiveness.

The results of Project Aristotle – surprising to some – showed that the most important aspects affecting team effectiveness related to how the team worked together rather than the individuals on the team. The most important variable identified in the study was "psychological safety," which the study defines as, "an individual's perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk." In other words, a team member does not have to worry that they will be punished for making a mistake, asking a question, or offering an idea.

As Valerie Strauss points out on The Washington Post site, this has relevance for schools and how we approach education and the preparation of students for the future. Schools and educators cannot afford to focus on technology, concepts, and facts at the expense of cultivating effective interpersonal, social, emotional, and critical-thinking skills. Our students will need these skills to survive and thrive in the world. They will need to be able to collaborate effectively with co-workers, and that collaboration will be more successful if they are empathetic, supportive, articulate, and insightful.

At Eton, we value all these qualities. I hesitate to use the term "soft skills," since I think that relegates them to a second tier. These will be essential skills for our students, and our program, teachers, and vision all embrace that idea.
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