How Do You Build the Perfect Team? Just Ask Google

Blog Posts - Apr 18, 2017

Jorden Schmidt
Leadership & Culture

The answer is psychological safety. If that’s all you wanted, I’ll save you the trouble of scrolling through searching the subsequent text for the answer.

Not enough, you say? Give me context, you say? Well, reader, read on.

The Google empire is built on data – it’s how they make their money. From advertising analytics to search engine optimization, high-volume data collection and analysis has enabled Google to extract untold value from our online habits. We search for the newest happy hour spot in town, and Google collects ad dollars and data to inform how to price their next round of ads.

Well, Google did what Google does best – they collected oodles of data – but this time to help them better understand team effectiveness. Code-named Project Aristotle, a team of researchers began by defining what constitutes a “team” and how to measure “effectiveness.” By gathering a mix of qualitative and quantitative data on 180 teams across the globe, the researchers determined that it was less about the skill set of the individuals, and more about the culture of the team (in other words, how they worked together).

Google identified the following dynamics of effective teams, in order of importance:

  1. Psychological Safety
  2. Dependability
  3. Structure & Clarity
  4. Meaning
  5. Impact

What they found was that these culture “norms” – often, simply unwritten rules – elevated the team’s collective intelligence. In contrast, the wrong “norms” could cause a team consisting of individually intelligent members to fail.

The most important dynamic, psychological safety, is defined as an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk. Think about offering constructive feedback to a superior. Or asking a basic question like, “what’s the goal of this project?” that may make you sound ignorant amongst peers. Or acknowledging a personal failure that others could ultimately learn from and avoid. These are just a few examples of interpersonal risks that can make teams more effective – but are often avoided in companies and teams with less-than-great cultures.

Recognizing the need for these team dynamics is one thing – how do you go about fostering the change and scaling “unwritten rules”?

At Think Shift, change is the name of the game. The key is to take the unwritten rules that you want and find a way to write them into the culture. When we work with our clients on culture change, we customize the tactical approach to their needs – but the philosophy is consistent, and is built on four fundamental behavioral paradigms:

  1. Responsibility: do your employees seek out responsibility, or must it be delegated to them?
  2. Authority: how does your company make decisions? And how quickly?
  3. Accountability: how accountable are your employees, and how willing are they to hold others accountable?
  4. Transparency: is your company willing to put it all out on the table?

These four behaviors – when pushed to the right side of the spectrum – foster a culture of what we call empowered employees. Empowered employees feel psychologically safe to take risks at work because they have the authority to do so. They’re dependable, and they trust their fellow empowered peers to be dependable, too. And if someone drops the ball, an empowered employee will call them up (not out) because transparency is not only accepted, but expected. Instill these dynamics into your culture, and you will create effective teams.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. The proof is in the data. Just ask Google.

To learn more about creating a culture of empowerment in your company, check out our Webinar Replay on trust, empowerment and decision-making.