What Google discovered makes a great team

Back in 2012, Google kicked off a study codenamed Project Aristotle to understand what makes a great team. The research team started by reviewing a stack of academic literature on teams, and ideas such as the ones in this graphic from BrilliantTrainingGroup, then applied what they found to 180 Google teams, but they couldn’t find any patterns.

In the past, Google had thought that putting the best people together would simply allow magic to happen. But the researchers’ initial investigation showed that ‘who’ was on the team wasn’t the determining factor regarding performance.

The researchers then started searching the data for anything on group norms: those things that a group does that denote its habits, its patterns of behaviour, its culture. This avenue of inquiry explained the patterns of performance better than the characteristics of the team members.

Then the team uncovered the idea of psychological safety in the literature and it was as if everything fell together. The patterns became clearer, and five factors emerged that have the biggest impact on team performance.

They concluded there were five factors:
1. Psychological safety – people can and do speak up
2. Dependability – you do what you promise to do
3. Structure and clarity – goals are clear and the process for getting there is known
4. Meaning of work – everyone is here for more than just a pay-cheque
5. Impact of work – the team can see how their contribution makes a difference.

Here’s where I got the short version of this story – an article about the role of stories in data analysis. There’s also a longer version of this story in the New York Times.

The internet reveals lots of models for high performing teams, including the image on this page. Are they all saying the same thing? Or are some of them wrong-headed? What’s interesting about the Google story is that they searched to see what the data said.

I remember an initiative a few years ago in BT called High performing teams which said that what was important was these 4 things:

  • Right people
  • Right work
  • Right processes
  • Right engagement

The Google evidence seems to suggest that that was only partly the right focus.

Gallup’s Q12 survey focusses on that last point of engagement. Because there is other evidence that ‘engagement’ correlates with high performance – but that term isn’t specifically used in the Google analysis.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

I bet our BT staff YourSay survey is also based on these ideas.

Anyhow it all made me think about the team I work in.

One thing I did recently was to tell our software suppliers in Bulgaria about how their software was now being used. They normally only see the development stage of the project, and had no idea, for example that we now have 430 subject groups and 87,000 page hits per month. They were noticeably excited and positive when they heard the impact of work they had done for us.

Another thing I’ve been doing (as you might have noticed in this blog) is trying to get really clear on the purpose of everything I’m involved in. Making it meaningful for everyone involved. I think that is also starting to make a difference.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s