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Lessons from Google: How to Build an Effective Team

Learning & Development, Team Building, Workplace Productivity

A world leader in cultivating impressively innovative teams, Google’s team effectiveness research uncovers the ingredients necessary for team success.

Inspired by Aristotle’s saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, Google has recently come to the end of a five-year project called Project Aristotle, to research what makes teams effective at Google.

The importance Google places on its people and making the company a great place to work has been widely noted. Google argues that if people love working for the company, they’ll attract the best minds and a genuine hunger for innovation – which ultimately translates into business success.

Google’s team effectiveness research involved 180 Google teams, 200 interviews and the analysis of more than 250 team attributes. The broad conclusion was that the interaction of team members, how they structure their work and how they feel about their contributions were the most important elements determining team effectiveness.

These conclusions centre on five team dynamics. Find out more about these dynamics and what we can learn from them:

1. Psychological Safety

A key question Google asked in the research was: “Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?” The idea is that staff members must feel secure enough in their team in order to put forward ideas, ask questions and generally contribute. If they do, their team is much more likely to be innovative and successful. But if they’re too worried about how their ideas will be received by the rest of the team, it negatively affects the innovation potential of the team and the perception of the team.

Tip: It takes time to improve company culture, but start by training managers and leaders to foster positive participation in their teams. Team building activities can also help team members understand that it’s ok to be vulnerable in front of each other.

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2. Dependability

Each and every team member must be dependable in order to achieve maximum effectiveness. This means team members can be relied on to complete their work on time and to a high standard, taking their commitments to work seriously. Google found that even one unreliable team member can significantly impact the effectiveness of a team.

Tip: If a team member isn’t dependable, it’s likely they’re not adequately performing in their role. Managers should be encouraged to be vigilant for problems associated with this and have early conversations with the staff member concerned to better support them to complete work in a timely way.

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3. Structure and Clarity

Google’s research found that teams were much more effective when they understood how their contribution to a team and broader company goals made a difference. When it’s unclear what objectives teams are working towards and why particular projects have been prioritised, a feeling of uncertainty can dominate.

Tip: Ensure a company’s vision, mission and business objectives are regularly communicated with staff, and ensure all projects clearly relate to the bigger picture within an organisation.

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4. Meaning

Individuals who feel a sense of personal connection to the business they work for form much more effective teams. Google found that having a sense of meaning and purpose was crucial for the highest levels of team working. Genuine enthusiasm for a company, job satisfaction and feeling part of something bigger all contribute to this.

Tip: Regularly taking employees out of the office routine for away-days can inspire staff and encourage them to shape the future of the company.

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5. Impact

The most effective teams at Google feel the work they do makes a tangible difference. Being able to see the real-world impact their work has is inspiring for each and every individual who make up a team. Realising work has actual importance makes a big difference to team effectiveness.

Tip: Share impact reports and evaluations of work regularly with teams and make a point of naming teams who contributed to specific outcomes. Give teams the opportunity to experience the business from different perspectives so they can see how everything fits together too.

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By investing time and energy in nurturing these five team characteristics, the effectiveness and innovation of teams can genuinely soar.

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