Google’s five key success factors for effective teams

When it comes to getting things done, hiring people brighter than yourself is generally considered something of a no-brainer. But there’s more to building a team than simply assembling a bunch of the smartest people you can find.

Google has spent the past two years studying more than 180 of its teams, to figure out the secret to success. It interviewed 200+ employees to ask about attitudes to teamwork, in order to discover the common attributes of a high performing team.

The results, as discussed on its re:Work blog, are revealing. It turns out that standout teams have five common traits, and these are perhaps a lot less skill-based than you might initially think.

Cultural and psychological factors are of primary importance, as is strategic vision. How people work with one another is absolutely fundamental, if a team is to be effective.  

The five ‘key dynamics’ are as follows:

Psychological safety

Do you have the freedom to take risks without fear of ridicule? 

Dependability

Do you trust your colleagues to complete tasks to a high standard?

Structure and clarity

Does everybody on the team know precisely what is expected of them, and what the need to accomplish?

Meaning of work

Do you care about what you’re doing today?

Impact of work

Do you think that your work is going to move the needle?

google-building-teams

Of those five, it turns out that psychological safety was “far and away the most important.”

Google’s Julia Rozovsky explained:

“We’re all reluctant to engage in behaviors that could negatively influence how others perceive our competence, awareness, and positivity. Although this kind of self-protection is a natural strategy in the workplace, it is detrimental to effective teamwork.”

The research showed that employees who feel psychologically secure in the workplace are more likely to:

  • Stay with the company
  • Embrace new ideas from their colleagues
  • Generate more revenue
  • Be rated as ‘effective’ twice as often by their managers.

Compelling stuff. 

Google is now actively monitoring 300 of its teams via a ‘10-minute pulse check’ called gTeams, a tool it has created to improve team effectiveness, anchored around its research.

The findings support other studies in this area, notably one by Anita Woolley at Carnegie Mellon University, who conducted a teamwork experiment with almost 700 people.

Woolley split the group up into smaller teams, and swiftly discovered that intelligence wasn’t the most critical success factor. 

Instead, things like social sensitivity, group humour, shared understanding, and first-rate communication skills were considered most valuable in building a winning team. 

It goes without saying that leadership is also incredibly important, in terms of guiding direction, providing feedback, hiring new team members, and having the necessary vision for success.

Maybe the old saying is right: a great team really is more than the sum of its parts. What do you think?

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