A lot of the work done at Google, and in many organisations, is done collaboratively by teams. The team is the unit where real production happens, where innovative ideas are conceived and tested, and where employees experience most of their work. But it’s also where interpersonal issues, ill-suited skill sets, and unclear group goals can slow down productivity and cause friction.
Under a project called Aristotle – a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – Google researchers set about to answer the question: “What makes a team effective at Google?”
The researchers found that what really mattered was more about how the team worked together vs about who is on the team. In order of importance:
Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.
On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time.
Structure and clarity
An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness. Goals can be set at the individual or group level, and must be specific, challenging, and attainable.
Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. The meaning of work is personal and can vary – financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, or self-expression for each individual, for example.
The results of one’s work, the subjective judgement that your work is making a difference, is important for teams. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organization’s goals can help reveal impact.