The leadership playbook of Silicon Valley's most influential business coach has been opened to the public in a new book, The Trillion Dollar Coach. It's about Bill Campbell, who wasn't a household name but who coached entrepreneurs whose companies impact our lives.
Campbell worked side-by-side with Steve Jobs and with Google co-founder Larry Page. He coached the current CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, as well as CEOs of Twitter, Flipboard, eBay, and many other companies. Campbell also coached former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, one of book's three co-authors.
"A trillion dollars underestimates the value he created," Schmidt writes. "Bill was the greatest executive coach the world has ever seen."
After Campbell passed away in 2016, Google started to teach his principles to emerging leaders within the company. One of those principles is easy for any leader to adopt and might dramatically improve your team's rapport and success.
Start meetings with trip reports.
Eric Schmidt served as Google's CEO from 2001 to 2011. For a decade, he held weekly staff meetings at 1:00 p.m. on Mondays. In many ways, the meetings were typical--agenda, check-ins, updates, etc. He did one thing differently, though, thanks to a tactic Bill Campbell taught him.
Schmidt kicked off meetings by asking people what they did on the weekend. If someone had returned from a trip, he'd ask for a "trip report." Sergey Brin would tell stories of his kite-boarding adventures, while others had more mundane activities, like attending a kids' soccer game.
"While this conversation seemed impromptu and informal at first glance, it was part of a communications approach that Bill had developed over the years," according to The Trillion Dollar Coach.
Asking for trip reports served two purposes. First, it allowed team members to get to know each other on a personal level, which improved relationships. And second, it got everyone involved in the meeting right from the start--in a fun way. Later in the meeting, Google employees were expected to participate in meetings even if the issue wasn't in their functional roles. Getting them to talk early facilitated conversation later.
According to the authors, who include two other Google executives--Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle--the trip report was a simple communication practice that got people to share stories and make personal connections, which lead to better decision making.
There's science behind sharing stories.
Campbell's communication strategy seems simple--and it is--but the science behind it is powerful.
Professor Uri Hasson's research at Princeton University shows that when people share personal stories with one another, they build stronger bonds than if they simply meet to share information. Hasson calls the effect "neural coupling." Stronger coupling improves communication between speaker and listener. Sharing personal stories--even if they don't have anything to do with the topic of the meeting--strengthens the cognitive connections between two people, making it more likely that they'll build rapport and work well together.
Campbell believed that communication skills were critical to a company's success. The best leaders are able to build rapport and strengthen relationships among team members. Start your next meeting with simple, casual conversations about the non-business lives of the people at the table. It's not a waste of time. It's a powerful team-building strategy and it's helped to build some of the America's most admired companies.