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Evidence from Google's research study reveals how to build the perfect team.

By Nicole Lowell, Staff Writer for James McPartland

What makes a team effective?

Time and time again, executives looking to elevate company performance are faced with this challenging question. Often unable to determine the key to building more productive teams, frustration sets in when they fall short of the task.

Recent findings from a groundbreaking study have finally offered some answers.

Skyrocket Team Synergy With These 5 Traits article by Nicole Lowell, staff writer for Executive Coach, Author & Speaker, James McPartland

Project Aristotle

In 2012, Google set out to discover the secret to team effectiveness by analyzing hundreds of their teams in order to understand why some failed and others succeeded. Their research focused on identifying and classifying key characteristics shared by the most effective project teams. Aptly named Project Aristotle, this internal fact-finding initiative was based on the philosopher’s concept that “the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts”.

One of Google’s most surprising discoveries:

Building the best teams is not just about assembling the best people

A common misconception of many organizations, including Google prior to their study, is that the most successful teams are built by amassing the most successful people. Take a highly experienced VP, two of the most qualified engineers, a veteran project manager, and you have the perfect team, right? According to Julia Rozovsky, Google’s people analytics manager and lead researcher on the project, “We were dead wrong”.

What really matters is less about WHO is on the team, and more about HOW the team operates as a group

In What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, New York Times writer Charles Duhigg highlights the way in which Google made sense of its collected data and ultimately adjusted their line of thinking:

“As they struggled to figure out what made a team successful, Rozovsky and her colleagues kept coming across research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on what are known as "group norms" - the traditions, behavioral standards, and unwritten rules that govern how teams function when they gather… Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound… when [team members] gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team.”

In other words, the “right norms” will foster a team’s collective intelligence, transform productivity, and become the catalyst for success. The “wrong norms” will disrupt a team’s productivity and ultimately interfere with the effectiveness of how the group works as a whole, even if individually, each member is exceptional.

company employee showing the power of teamwork by helping his colleague
team meeting showing the right way to operate as a group
successful team putting their heads together in a group huddle

The 5 keys to a successful team

With a new understanding of the dynamics that impact and drive team performance, Project Aristotle’s researchers set out to identify team behaviors that consistently elevate the collective intelligence of groups. In this Google blog post, Rozovsky outlines the five key traits of high-performing teams:

1) Psychological safety

Critical to team success, this one is intentionally at the top of the list. As the most important of the five dynamics, psychological safety provides the foundational roots needed for the other four to grow. In a psychologically safe environment, corporate and organizational team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable with each other. They feel confident that no one in the group will punish, judge, or criticize anyone else for voicing an opinion, asking a question, or taking responsibility for a mistake.

Fostering psychological safety is a cultural practice that must start from the top down within organizations and their leadership teams. In the Manager Actions for Psychological Safety guide, company leaders can access actionable steps they can start taking now to create the psychologically safe environments in which teams thrive.  If the CEO of an organization will model the behavior and perpetuate this business culture, his executive team will likely follow suit.

CEO creating psychological safety for his company leaders

2) Structure & clarity

Team members have clearly-defined target goals, execution plans, and structured roles within the group. Job expectations, as well as the process for fulfilling them, are communicated in advance and clearly understood. Objectives are specific, challenging, and attainable.

3) Dependability

Team members complete assignments on time and meet high-quality expectations. If a deadline cannot be met for any reason, a culture of integrity is modeled and practiced within the team, meaning individuals take responsibility, and efforts are made to make amends for the missed deadlines.  Members work together to find solutions that work for the group as a whole.

4) Individual meaning

The work is significant to each team member on a personal level. As such, reasons for finding the work meaningful can vary from person to person: The job may provide financial security, an opportunity for self-expression, and/or the satisfaction of helping the team succeed collectively, to name a few.

5) Contributing impact

Team members believe the work they contribute is purposeful, makes a difference, and leaves a positive impact on the greater good. Understanding how one’s part plays a vital and important role in achieving the organization’s overall goals is a crucial motivating factor in elevating and maintaining strong team synergy.

team members having a group high five to celebrate each other's achievements
Leadership team holding puzzle pieces to show how to build the best teams
Corporate leaders smiling together after achieving their organization's goals

Build your perfect team

Building the perfect team is no simple task, but by focusing on growing these five key traits, you will greatly increase your chances of success! Check out this terrific Team Effectiveness Discussion Guide to help your organizational leaders discover the functioning characteristics that need improvement and spark ideas on how to skyrocket your team’s synergy to a whole other level!


By: Nicole Lowell

Staff Writer for James McPartland's Team



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