Labber Spotlight | April 2019
Director of Program Management
2 min read
The surprising connection between WLL and Google’s approach to creating effective teams.
Women’s Leadership Lab (WLL) isn’t the first women’s leadership cohort for Alexandra McFarland, Director of Program Management at AncestryDNA. She’s been a member of another ongoing collaborative in San Francisco since 2006. What draws her to this work?
“Our world has become increasingly diverse. This work speaks to principles that help us navigate those differences — from ethnicity to cultural backgrounds to value systems — all to better understand each other so we can effectively communicate and connect,” McFarland explains.
“There are principles of managing conflict that come out of effective communication and communication styles all headed towards optimizing on the fact that we have the commonality of being … people.”
She finds the process useful and interesting but quickly notes that effective communication requires more than simply avoiding conflict.
“You have to really know and understand your internal self first. And that’s what WLL offers: a safe space for introspection that leads to a deeper personal understanding of yourself. By going through this process it has made a huge difference in how I react to another person.
“So it’s a combination of that internal personal understanding and then using it to help navigate communications with another human being effectively.”
McFarland understands that the key to managing her teams effectively involves creating a space of safety and relationship. This has been famously proven most recently via Google employee research (code-name Project Aristotle). In 2012, Google began looking at how to ‘build the perfect team’. The conventional wisdom from senior management was: just put the best people together. But…no. Those teams didn’t always work out. The research revealed that to be fully present and effective at work is to feel ‘psychologically safe’— to be free enough to share without recriminations, even when it involves hard or messy conversations.
“Project Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.”
“If you think about it, Women’s Leadership Lab is very similar to that communications model, McFarland observes. “This includes interpersonal, intrapersonal, group and even systems-level communications. And all the work we did in our Lab can be transposed to getting our work teams to effectively engage.
“For me, the bottom line is that WLL was an attractive way to get more exposure to those effective models and techniques, which helps me continue developing high- performing teams.
“That is why I signed up.”