High-Performing Teams – What Google Found

Google Findings on High-Performing Teams

I was excited to read this recent New York Times Article describing research done by Google to determine the characteristics of their high-performing teams. In the Aristotle study, Google investigated the data on team performance to glean what they could about how to create high-performing teams. The results were surprisingly simple: high-performing teams created safety for their team members. The implications are important.

At 5,500+ words, the article is definitely TLTR. You can read my summary of the article below and then decide if you want to read the whole article.

Key Takeaways on Creating High-Performing Teams:

Teams are Important

Teams are a fundamental building block of the organization and how work gets done. Compared to individuals, teams innovate faster, create better solutions, make fewer mistakes, and result in higher employee engagement. Good teams can provide a competitive advantage.

Who is on the Team is not important

We tend to think of Google employees as a bunch of rock stars (and I am sure they are). But when it came down to performance, the research found that it was more about the team interactions and group norms than the particular individuals. It was about how the team worked together.

Creating Safety Matters & Teams Need Good Communications and Empathy

The best performing teams had what was called psychological safety, communication, and empathy. Psychological safety is what the team members feel about taking risks, making mistakes, speaking up, and doing what they think is right without feeling insecure or embarrassed. I wrote more about the importance of safety in Fear Has to Go for High-Performing Teams and Don’t Overlook This Requirement for High-Performing Teams.

Communications were about everyone having equal opportunities to speak and feel like they were heard. Empathy was about reading how others are really feeling.

One technique they referred to was called ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test’. By seeing others faces and eyes, team members could discern what others were really feeling, which created safety.

Implications for all organizations

If You Aren’t Investing in Teams, You Are Likely Not Competing Well

Are you investing in your teams to get the performance you need?  Are you assigning people to projects without considering whether it will be an effective team? Are you creating “teams” which have the opportunity to be high-performing, using good communication and empathy?

Teams Need to Address and Encourage Effective Norms

Do you use a process for teams to form Team Norms, Team Agreements or Team Values Statements? Do you know the signs of team distress?  Are you addressing teams that lack effective norms or teams that suffer from high turnover?

Leaders and Facilitators Need Training

Do you train teams leaders and facilitators in techniques that encourage equal participation from everyone? Or do you have hierarchical teams where one person dominates the conversation? Do you train on empathy and other emotional intelligence tools?

Companies Should Evaluate the Effectiveness of their Distributed Teams

Most companies today establish distributed teams without really giving any thought to whether they would be more effective with co-located teams. It’s kinda hard to discern the feelings of some disconnected person on the other end of a conference call.  Do your teams meet face to face or have high-bandwidth communication tools allowing you to look each other in the eyes? 

Follow this link to read the NYT article: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html

(Hat tip to my friend Tomas J. who prompted me to read the article.)

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By Anthony Mersino

Anthony Mersino is the founder of Vitality Chicago, an Agile Training and Coaching firm devoted to helping Teams THRIVE and Organizations TRANSFORM. He is also the author of two books, Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.

1 comment

  1. Let’s qualify what’s meant when we say, ‘who is on the team is not important’.

    This is a relative term. Obviously, a team of year one students versus in a match against a team of pro ballers is not going to end well for the little guys. What this is saying, all things equal, is that a cohesive collective works better than a collection of self-interested individuals.

    But, whether your organisation are comprised of year ones or pro ballers, output will be better if the team are in sync in their respective classes than otherwise. In Agile, teams are more important than the project. If you must decide between continuity of a team versus a project, bias the team over the project. Altering team composition, triggers Storming, Forming, Norming, Performing cycle, and until they are at the Performing stage, you aren’t operating on all cylinders.

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