Great Teamwork & Leadership: The Google Study

By: avery
April 20, 2018

What makes a great team?

Most teams suck. This can be remedied given leadership which works to understand what makes a great team and build that ideal.

The leadership at google, put in the effort to understand what makes an unstoppable team. After conducting 200 interviews and studying 180 google teams, they found that who is on the team matters a-lot less than how they interact with each other.

Here are the top 5 traits that foster an incredible team dynamic, and how leaders can work to improve them.

Psychological safety in teams:

Can every member of the team take risks without potential embarrassment?

According to the google study, psychological safety, the ability to ask questions, suggest ideas and debate openly without fear of embarrassment or humiliation, was by far the most important trait.

The key way that leaders can foster this trait, is to model it. Openly share your struggles and get to the root of the issue: you. Express your failures openly. Act as stream of questions and ideas to show that group silence is the only failure.

Solicit conversation within the team. Call on individuals for their ideas, ask the group questions. This is especially important in setting the collaboration standard in the beginning. Once you gain momentum and people feel comfortable collaborating the standard is set and will be easier to maintain.

Listen and act on your team’s ideas. As a leader a good way to have people stop collaborating and not contribute, is to ignore their contributions. Listen actively, get off your phone and look people in the eyes when they’re talking to you. Acknowledge them, their ideas and ask questions to dig deeper. Why in the first place, would you look for more active teams only to rob them of their effort.

Harvard business school professor of leadership and management Amy Edmondson gave an incredible Tedx talk on the topic of psychological safety in teams.  

Listen: Amy Edmondson on Psychological Safety

Dependable team members:

Can team members rely on each other to do amazing work on time every time?

It just makes sense that you need to know you can rely on your teammates to execute their tasks. In order to really make sure everyone is dependable you need to do the following:

Express the big picture. It’s always important to delegate the little tasks, but does everyone know what their working towards? By starting there, and then clearly breaking it down everyone will know what is expected to be the final result.

Once the micro-tasks are determined, have the team assign themselves the tasks. This is a heavy burden of responsibility, and by outwardly saying “I will get X, Y & Z done by next week” people apply a level of social pressure that is unmatched by “You will do X”.

Track progress openly, and finally, get out of the way. Do your best to foster communication within the group. Members should proactively express delays and issues to their teammates.

Read more on the study: Understanding team effectiveness

Structure & clarity:

Is there an established set of roles, goals and an execution plan?

This goes hand and hand with my dependability advice. Except, other things have to be defined as well. Everyone on the team should be able to answer these questions:

How does the team make decisions?

How does the team determine success?

What structure do we use to track progress?

One method used by Google is the OKR (Objectives, Key results) system. OKRs are an exceptionally well integrated and documented method of managing goals during set time periods. We have experimented with OKRs at Modash, and they are a very effective way to work.

Read: Felipe Castro’s guide to OKRs 

Teams that matter have meaning:

Do the team members feel that their work is important on a personal level? Do they believe in it?

Ability and skill should not be the only factors of why a task is assigned to a specific person. The task should matter to them, it should be something they care about and want to do. Allowing people to assign themselves tasks is a great way to do this.

Push your team to take on task that result in their personal development and express this as a core value within the team. At Modash, every interview begins with “Where are you now, where do you want to be, how can this job help you get there?”. This sets a strong precedent for personal development from the very beginning stage of the relationship. This is then fostered by a continuous dialogue about personal development. How much closer are you? How can we help?

Furthermore, recognizing and taking every opportunity to celebrate the success of a team or individual is very important. Let people know that you’re excited by their successes, that they have a real impact on you.

Learn: How KPMG leads with meaning. 

Effective teams are impactful:

Does each team member feel that their input results in meaningful impact?

Work should result in progress. Everyone should know that when their task is completed, the company will have moved forward. The team will have moved forward, that they will have created a success which drives each individual and the group forward.

Have few, powerful goals as opposed to many insignificant ones and never ever allow the team to think its not making a real difference.

Teamwork makes the dreamwork as they say. So don’t skimp out when it comes to building and fostering epicness within your team. As a leader, it’s your job to set an example of these right now, and start talking about improving your team in these ways. Open conversations, facilitated brainstorming on team-improvement and constant engagement will push you into a team so effective you’ll think they are one brain.

Read more: The Google study on Re-work