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Successful Teambuilding: How Google Does It

Google is a company similar to many organizations where team members interact with one another to produce high-quality work.

The perfect team is created to ensure real production happens, innovative ideas are conceived and tested and employees are allowed to experience most of their work.

However, the creation of a great team can be hindered by interpersonal issues, ill-suited skill sets, and unclear group goals that will cause friction.

According to google’s people analytics division, a study was conducted to discover the secrets of effective teams at Google.

Code-named Project Aristotle which is a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

This research was done due to the fact that Google researchers believed employees can do more working together than alone.

How to create effective teamwork?

The goal of Project Aristotle was to answer the question: “What makes a team effective at Google?”

In order to answer this question, we must first look at “what is a team?”

The term team can also take on a wide array of meanings.

This includes:

1) Work groups

Work group norms are based on organizational or managerial hierarchy.

They are often characterized by the least amount of interdependence and may meet periodically to hear and share information.

2) Teams

Teams are highly interdependent in execution plans.

They work closely together to plan work, solve problems, make decisions, and review progress in service of a specific project.

Members of a team need one another to get work done.

The Google research team focused on groups with truly interdependent working relationships, as determined by the teams themselves.

Rather than focusing only on communicating results, they wanted to empower Googlers to understand the dynamics of their own teams and offer tips for improving.

Therefore a survey for teams to take and discuss amongst themselves was created.

Survey items focused on the five dynamics and the questions included consist of the following:

  • Create psychological safety – “If I make a mistake on our team, it is not held against me.”
  • Dependability – “When my teammates say they’ll do something, they follow through with it.”
  • Structure and Clarity – “Our team has an effective decision-making process.”
  • Meaning – “The work I do for our team is meaningful to me.”
  • Impact – “I understand how our team’s work contributes to the organization’s goals.”

After completing the survey, team leads will receive aggregated and anonymized scores to share with team members and inform a discussion.

A People Operations facilitator would often join the discussion, or the team lead would follow a discussion guide created by the People Operations team.

Results showed that out of the five key dynamics to ensure a team’s success, psychological safety came out at the top.

The Google researchers found that individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are:

  • less likely to leave Google
  • more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates
  • bring in more revenue
  • rated as effective twice as often by executives

In order to measure a team’s level of psychological safety, Edmondson asked team members how strongly they agreed or disagreed with these statements:

  1. If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  2. Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  3. People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  4. It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  5. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  6. No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  7. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

How to create a successful team?

1) Ensure team members feel important

Having equal talking time for every member is crucial to ensuring they feel safe and heard.

This can discourage anyone from feeling insecure and specific personality types (especially introverts) can have a chance to speak in the group.

Interestingly, the distribution doesn’t necessarily have to be even all the time, but as long as all members of the group have an equal opportunity to speak, the team will work better together.

To ensure each team member receives an equal opportunity to provide input, the natural strategy will be to implement one of these methods at your next meeting:

  1. Every team member speaks for about the same amount of time on each topic
  2. Team members speak up more when they have more expertise on the topic, but the total amount of speaking time is roughly the same

Researchers found that either way was likely to succeed, but teams in which some members spoke little or not at all will have lower collective intelligence.

The team building takeaway: Make sure all members of a team have an equal opportunity to share their thoughts.

2) Be empathetic

The ability to recognize how other team members feel contributes to a more successful group.

An important empathic trait on a team is noticing when a person in the group is not participating and the opportunity is given to share their thoughts.

Of course, some individuals are naturally more intuitive than others, but proper training can teach empathy skills such as:

  • active listening
  • sharing your own vulnerability
  • considering how others might feel

The team building takeaway: Highlight the importance of recognizing how other people in the group feel to encourage a more collaborative environment.

 3) Create a Safe Space

It is important for a team member to be able to admit mistakes and voice an opinion without risking judgment or rejection.

Groups in which the leaders set a calm, respectful tone with structure and clarity are more likely to succeed than those in which the leaders have little emotional control.

The team building takeaway: Create a culture of mutual respect and interpersonal trust to allow all team members to feel that they can safely contribute to the conversation.

Other things to consider to create a dream team

Google spent the resources to crunch the numbers and found that the best teams were those that created safe spaces that allowed every individual to speak for an equal amount of time.

The most successful teams also displayed more empathy and prioritized psychological safety without the group.

You can apply this knowledge to your own company, no matter how small or large, to develop strong teams.

Remember, it’s not the individual personalities but the culture you create that will inform how well a team will perform.

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