What is it that makes some teams so effective while others struggle with inefficiencies, conflicts and a general lack of success? These are questions many companies and managers are constantly facing. With their large-scale project “Aristotle”, the online search giant Google decided to get behind the secret of successful teams – and came to amazing, surprisingly easy to implement results…
How do I put together the perfect team? Experts only, or a mix with outsiders and their fresh view? Why do some teams of high-achieving individuals fail, while seemingly less high-flying employees work more effectively? Questions that managers in Google had to mull over again and again – even though the search engine giant has a pool of outstanding employees. With their multi-year “Project Aristotle” they tried to identify the traits of successful teams.
A data-driven approach to group dynamics
Over the course of a year, hundreds of teams were analysed for their effectiveness, collecting data on the characteristics of particularly successful cooperation. However, no clear pattern could be determined. On the contrary – the data often was contradictory. Then they came across a university study in which the “collective intelligence as a performance factor in a group” were investigated across 699 teams. The successful teams had two important things in common: a largely equally distributed speaking time for each team member, and a high “social sensitivity” of everyone involved.
After three years of data analysis, the results were presented to Google employees, who further developed the findings with their experiences. This resulted in a list of success factors that make teams work better.
Success factor psychological safety
How comfortable do team members feel expressing their opinions and ideas among their co-workers? Are they acknowledged or interrupted, ignored or ridiculed by others or even their manager? The unsurprising and yet important result: The performance of those teams in which all parties involved could contribute equally without the fear of negative reactions was measurably higher. Therefore, establishing a personal relationship (not to be confused with friendship) is especially important for successful teams. How exactly, depends on the team’s personalities. For example, Google manager Matt Sakaguchi opened up about his struggle with an incurable illness, which he kept to himself until then. Thus he encouraged his team to share their stories, fostering mutual understanding and the team becoming a unit.
Success factor dependability
While related to psychological safety, dependability is a separate aspect to take into account. In teams that distributed their workload evenly, where members worked reliably and met milestones were more successful than teams that could not count on each other. Collaborating towards one goal inspires, while perceived injustices and uneven distribution of the workload leads to high performers losing their motivation.
Success factors structure & clarity
Working effectively needs a goal in mind, but also clarity about the next steps how to get there. But not every team needs the same amount of structure – some work just fine in ambiguous and less structured situations and go by their own, more flexible rules. So structure should not simply be imposed, but first developed together in an environment of psychological security. Here, as with the other success factors, it is up to the team’s management to act as a role model.
Success factors meaning & impact
Personal commitment increases when the team’s work has meaning for the company and for the individual employee. The management’s task is to communicate this meaning and the impact that the team is making from the start, and over and over again while at the same time adapting communication to changing circumstances. Walking the talk is key for managers. Nothing is more convincing than values and rules that are lived on a daily basis.
MARMIND Top Tips for building a successful team
Provide psychological safety – Opinions and ideas can be expressed freely and without fear of negative reactions or “mistakes”.
Establish structures together – Setting out with a clear goal and a set of rules in mind.
Convey meaning & communicate impact – Why do we work on this goal? What did we achieve? Have an answer ready.
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