Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

“Leaders will need to believe that newsroom culture has a bigger impact on the journalism than they understood in previous years — that a strong team dynamic is as important as their sharp and shiny stars.”

In 2012, Google kicked off Project Aristotle, a study to learn why the best teams were the most effective. They asked questions and looked for patterns across scores of individual dimensions, such as personality, education, and how long members had worked on the team.

When that yielded no patterns, they looked at team dynamics. You should read The New York Times Magazine article I linked above, but I’ll cut to the chase: The groups that overperformed were the ones that created a safe environment to participate and collaborate in.

Journalism has become more collaborative, but our culture, for the most part, has not. While there are pros and cons to the status quo, it’s clear that it’s currently difficult to create the safe space, empathy, and mutual respect that high-functioning teams need.

This might have continued for a long time, except that 2020 changed everything and forced us to work in a different way. The move to remote work made us more intentional in our efforts to communicate with one another, and created space (though not always safe) for more people to communicate what wasn’t working, as many workplaces publicly reckoned with their racial equity and DEI initiatives.

Looking ahead, 2021 will be a year in which we intentionally decide how we work together, building on the new norms that we hacked in 2020. Companies will need to address broader issues with communication, access, and equity within the workplace. Leaders will need to believe that newsroom culture has a bigger impact on the journalism than they understood in previous years — that a strong team dynamic is as important as their sharp and shiny stars. Managers are key to this transition and will need to reset with a new definition of success, followed by support and training to change.

We’ve known this for years, and there isn’t one weird trick to getting it right, but companies will need to invest to build a culture that allows more people to fully contribute to the work, and they’ll need to create accountability if they want to keep it.

Bo Hee Kim is a director of newsroom strategy at The New York Times.

In 2012, Google kicked off Project Aristotle, a study to learn why the best teams were the most effective. They asked questions and looked for patterns across scores of individual dimensions, such as personality, education, and how long members had worked on the team.

When that yielded no patterns, they looked at team dynamics. You should read The New York Times Magazine article I linked above, but I’ll cut to the chase: The groups that overperformed were the ones that created a safe environment to participate and collaborate in.

Journalism has become more collaborative, but our culture, for the most part, has not. While there are pros and cons to the status quo, it’s clear that it’s currently difficult to create the safe space, empathy, and mutual respect that high-functioning teams need.

This might have continued for a long time, except that 2020 changed everything and forced us to work in a different way. The move to remote work made us more intentional in our efforts to communicate with one another, and created space (though not always safe) for more people to communicate what wasn’t working, as many workplaces publicly reckoned with their racial equity and DEI initiatives.

Looking ahead, 2021 will be a year in which we intentionally decide how we work together, building on the new norms that we hacked in 2020. Companies will need to address broader issues with communication, access, and equity within the workplace. Leaders will need to believe that newsroom culture has a bigger impact on the journalism than they understood in previous years — that a strong team dynamic is as important as their sharp and shiny stars. Managers are key to this transition and will need to reset with a new definition of success, followed by support and training to change.

We’ve known this for years, and there isn’t one weird trick to getting it right, but companies will need to invest to build a culture that allows more people to fully contribute to the work, and they’ll need to create accountability if they want to keep it.

Bo Hee Kim is a director of newsroom strategy at The New York Times.

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