Google’s quest to build the perfect team!

Read a beautiful article over the weekend on group dynamics and why some groups fare too well as compared to others. The research was conducted at Google for about 3 years –

  • Today, a lot of Corporates are studying everything from team composition to email patterns in order to figure out how to make employees into faster, better, efficient.
  • Many of these corporates have come to realize that analysing and improving individual workers isn’t enough – best teams are not built by combining the best people.
  • In 2012, they commissioned an initiative to study hundreds of Google’s teams and figure out why some stumbled while others soared.
  • They collected lots of data (discussion styles in meetings, fixed conversations order vs interruptive style, socialising outside work, birthday donuts, discussion about weekend plans, etc.), but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference.
  • Which group would you rather join?
    • Team A – composed of people who are all exceptionally smart and successful. When you watch a video of this group working, you see professionals who wait until a topic arises in which they are expert, and then they speak at length, explaining what the group ought to do. When someone makes a side comment, the speaker stops, reminds every-one of the agenda and pushes the meeting back on track. This team is efficient. There is no idle chitchat or long debates. The meeting ends as scheduled and disbands so everyone can get back to their desks.
    • Team B – it’s evenly divided between successful executives and middle managers with few professional accomplishments. Teammates jump in and out of discussions. People interject and complete one another’s thoughts. When a team member abruptly changes the topic, the rest of the group follows him off the agenda. At the end of the meeting, the meeting doesn’t actually end: Everyone sits around to gossip and talk about their lives.
  • The results:
    • First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘conversational turn-taking.’’
    • Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ – a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.
    • These are aspects of ‘Psychological safety’ meaning ‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up
    • There were other behaviours that seemed important as well — like making sure teams had clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.
  • Agree, easier said than done – imagine decent amount of people who work at Google are often the ones who became software engineers because they wanted to avoid talking about feelings in the first place!
  • What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home.
  • When companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.

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