Newsflash – Google discovers the secret of great teams!

By | March 15, 2016

After three years of research, the folks at Google, having penetrated the fog, bent the light fantastic, and opened the blackest of black boxes, recently revealed the secret of what makes a great team.

In a recent New York Times Magazine article, What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team, writer Charles Duhigg dissects the findings of Project Aristotle at Google.

The key findings? Many of you won’t be surprised. Google found that putting a bunch of brilliant people together doesn’t create a great team. What is required is something called psychological safety – a feeling by team members that they can be themselves, express themselves, disagree if necessary with team members, and feel supported for their contributions.

One way Google measured this safety factor was to simply track each member’s contribution to the team conversation. They found that with great teams, members spoke an equal amount. In other words, no single member or group of members dominated the conversation.

They also found out that to outsiders, some great teams seemed messy. Members chatted, went off on tangents, told jokes, socialized a lot – in other words, didn’t seem to be doing anything useful for part of their meeting time.

But those same great teams were terrific at problem solving, regardless of the type or number of problems they were given. Google gave them assignments like “how many uses can you find for a brick” and “what products should we be focusing on ten years from now”. The great teams tackled every problem with energy and gusto.

I don’t find any of this surprising, based on my 40-odd years in the workplace. It’s always struck me that on the best teams I’ve been on, people were themselves, even a bit raucous and noisy sometimes, and yet could switch in a second from yakking about a terrific movie they’d just seen to a serious problem that needed a solution. On those same teams, I always felt I could express a disagreement politely, or bluntly if necessary, without raising the temperature of the room ten degrees.

The idea that it might be a choice to be yourself or someone different at work is both interesting and bizarre to me. Why would you not be yourself? And why would any workplace discourage you from being yourself? It’s strange but true that some people – and I’ve known a few, and yes they do tend to be men – feel compelled to create a work persona different than their real persona. Great teams blow up the need for this kind of duality or split personality.

Duhigg’s article is taken from a new book he’s written that you may want to check out if you find the article interesting. It’s called Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Productivity in Life and Business.

In my next post, I want to come back to this idea of “being yourself” in the workplace and why some people find it easier than others.

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