Jan 18, 201812:45 PMLeader to Leader
with Terry Siebert
Effective teams: Google reveals its secret
(page 1 of 2)
According to the Harvard Business Review, over the past two decades “the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more.” Wondering how to create consistently effective teams that make that time productive in your own organization? Google has revealed the secret to effective teams, but it’s not what you think.
Teamwork offers substantial benefits: better decisions, higher levels of innovation, and increased engagement — that is, when they work well. But what’s the secret to a high-functioning team? And why do so many falter?
A New York Times article, “What Google Learned in its Quest to Build the Perfect Team,” outlined the results of an extensive internal project initiated by Google six years ago to study and identify the key factors that make the best teams successful. In 2012, Google’s People Analytics Division engaged top statisticians, sociologists, and engineers who integrated findings from academic research with the big data methods the company is famous for and, at first, found no recurring patterns at all to predict which teams would function at a high level. Shared interests or backgrounds? Nope. Preferences for the same types of rewards? Not that either. Similar personality types? Doesn’t matter.
After looking at data from over 180 teams at Google, the researchers were perplexed, until they began investigating the group “norms” for successful teams. Norms, which are the informal, often unspoken set of rules that govern individual behaviors in a group, are what the project eventually determined were somehow a key differentiator in the success or failure of a team. But even then, after following more than a hundred teams for another year, the patterns they observed suggested sometimes contradictory answers.
In the end, while Google confirmed a number of important factors important to team success, including having clear goals and creating a culture of dependability, the data indicated that, above all, it is the presence or absence of psychological safety that determines whether a team will thrive. So the good news is that we now know what’s critically important: establishing an environment within each team that allows each of its members to feel safe. The challenge, then, is how?
According to the researchers, two key factors for psychological safety are that a team converse in a balanced way (with roughly equal input from everyone) and that members show empathy for one another. Now, while participation and empathy aren’t novel ideas, implementation can be challenging.