What Can Google Teach Managers About Teams?

by drjim on February 21, 2019

What does it take to create a team that will be successful?
What does it take to create a team that will be successful?
Image Credit: danny O.

The way that most work gets done is when we create a team of professionals, tell them what needs to be done, and then send them off to accomplish it. However, that is not always what happens. We’ve all had experiences with teams that we’ve used our manager skills to build that have struggled to accomplish their goals, have fought with each other, and generally have not gotten along very well. We know what failure looks like. What can a manager do in order to boost the chances that a team that he or she is responsible for will be a success?

What Google Knows About Teams

So what does Google know about teams? Well, in the beginning, they probably knew as much about teams as you and I do. Things that they had seen, things that they had heard, etc. However, Google being Google, they decided to take a closer look at what made teams work well within Google so that they could include it in their manager training. They put their enormous data processing capabilities to work tackling this problem. As you can probably imagine, within Google some of their teams were very, very successful and other were not. Some fell apart while some came together. Google collected as much data as they could from the teams who were successful in the hopes that they could find out what “made them tick”.

The folks who run Google initially though that what it took to create a team that would be successful was to staff it with the best and brightest people. Somewhat interestingly, it turns out that they were completely wrong. In order to find out why some of their teams were being successful while others were failing, the folks at Google reviewed over 180 Google teams, conducting more than 200 interviews, and analyzing 250-plus attributes they identified. The result of all of this data collection was that the Google number crunchers where then able to cross-compare the makeup of stellar groups and those that weren’t doing very well.

As a manger, you would think that who you choose to put on a team is going to be a big contributing factor in determining if the team is going to be successful. It turns out that the Google discovered that this is not true. Instead, who is on the team is less important than how the members of the team interact with each other. Google’s discoveries go deeper than just this finding. It turns out that it also matters how the members of the team structure their work and how they view their contributions to the team. All of this is critical information for those of us managers who are looking for ways to make our teams more effective and boosting their productivity when they are at work.

How You Can Build A Team That Will Succeed

As a manager, how can you use what Google has discovered about teams to build better teams? Google discovered five key dynamics that they believe set successful teams apart from the teams that fail. The first key dynamic was psychological safety. This has to do with the team members being able to answer the question can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed? It turns out that this was the most important factor, by far, that lead to a team’s success. Teams that feel safe are more likely to take risks, admit mistakes, collaborate, or even take on new roles.

The ability to depend on other members of the team is important also. When you are working on a dependable team, all of its members complete their tasks on time and to the expected quality standards. Without that, the entire group will struggle, regardless of whether some are willing to pick up the slack. Teams succeed when there is structure and clarity in how they are organized. Team members need to clearly understand their role within the team, any current plans, and business goals that affect their work. Without this, team members may have a difficult time identifying who is responsible for what, why certain actions need to be done, and what the broader objectives happen to be.

Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, it turns out that the work that the members of a team do needs to be meaningful. What this means for managers is that those members of a team who feel personally connected to the business and their work are more likely to excel. People who are passionate about the company’s mission experience higher levels of job satisfaction, which ultimately improves performance. Finally, what the team does has to stand for something. The best teams believe that what they do matters in a real way; that their contributions provide value and support some sort of positive change. This makes the day-to-day work feel more important, as team members understand how their assigned tasks impact company goals in a fundamental way, making even tedious work seem valuable.

What All Of This Means For You

Managers understand that their careers depend on what the teams that they are responsible for are able to accomplish. What this means is that we want to be able to create and manage smooth flowing teams where everyone gets along with each other and the team is highly productive even if they have not had a lot of team building. However, as we all know, this often does not happen and the team gets mired down in issues, team members don’t get along with each other, and eventually the team fails. This is what we need to find ways to avoid.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Google also uses teams to accomplish tasks. They’ve taken the time to study what made some of their teams be successful and what caused other teams to fail. What Google discovered was that who is on the team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions. Additionally Google uncovered 5 key features of a successful team. A successful team can take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed. The ability to depend on other members of the team is important also. Team members need to clearly understand their role within the team. The work that the members of a team do needs to be meaningful. The best teams believe that what they do matters in a real way.

By creating teams that possess the five traits that Google identified, as a manager you are setting them up for success. So, instead of focusing solely on hard skills and education, take a look at the personalities of your employees and make sure that they come together in these key areas. That way, they’ll be primed to exceed expectations, innovate, and work like a well-oiled team machine.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: When you are building a team, how can you determine if the people that you pick will be able to work together?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So what kind of workplace do you work in? No, I’m not asking about the kind of furniture you have, what the view out the window looks like, or how comfortable the chairs are. Instead, what I’d like to know is just exactly how toxic is it? Surveys have been taken that reveal that 64% of people reported that they were currently working with someone that they considered to be toxic. A whopping 94% said that they had worked with someone who was toxic at some point in their career. It looks like we may have a problem that has to be solved by a manager here using your manager skills.

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You don’t want to be blindsided at the office

You don’t want to be blindsided at the office

Image Credit: Steve Betts

So how are things going for you at work? Are you getting along with everyone – especially your boss? Or are you starting to get left out of meetings that you used to get invited to? Are the people that you work with starting to become cool towards you? Has your boss stopped having conversations with you? Bad things may becoming your way and you may not even realize it…

How To Tell When You Are On Thin Ice

So how do managers get themselves in trouble at the office? One way that this can happen is if we don’t do a good job of using our manager skills to read the external factors that can influence our job. Our manager training teaches us that one of the most important of these is your management’s priorities and values. As manager, we need to understand that if our management starts to ignore us, then there must be a reason why they are doing that.

There are a lot of things that can lead to a miscommunication between you and your management. If your management stops giving you feedback and starts to leave you out of important meetings, then you should realize that you have a problem on your hands. This problem may have been caused by you having an over inflated sense of your capabilities and strengths. You might think that you are are able to do more things that you really can and that you can do them better than it turns out that you can. Secondly, you may be lacking an awareness of what your personal vulnerabilities are. This can lead to you being blindsided at work.

A lot of what can cause a manager problems at work is that they are unaware of how they are being perceived. If we think that we are good at doing something, like logical thinking, then we think that we are good at any job that requires logical reasoning and that may not be the case. Additionally, when we are poor performers in a given area, we are more than likely unable to recognize that we are poor performers in that area. Finally, most of us tend to resist efforts by our coworkers to let us know that we have a problem. We’ll say that their input is either irrelevant or inaccurate.

What To Do When You Are On Thin Ice

As managers we never want to find ourselves in a situation where we end up getting blindsided by events at the office that cause us to be on thin ice. Instead, we’d like to develop the ability to be aware of what is going on around us. One of the most critical things that we are going to have to make sure that we do is to early on find out how your management plans on evaluating your work performance. If you don’t know this, then you may spend time doing things that won’t make you look good.

In order to know how your management views your job performance, you need to take the time to ask them specific questions about your job performance. This information will be valuable, but what may be even more valuable will be feedback that you get from your colleagues who you are confident will tell you the truth. In every office situation, there will be some employees who do better than the other employees. These employees are often called “high achievers”. You need to carefully study what they are doing and then compare your performance to them. Ultimately what is going to keep you off of thin ice will be your become relationships. This is why it is critical that you make an effort to maintain good relationships with your management, the members of your team, and your peers.

One of the best times to get feedback on how your performance is being viewed will be during your performance reviews. What this means for you is that you need to watch your behavior during these reviews. You don’t want to appear to become defensive or bristle during the review. This will send the wrong message to your management. How you get along with the people that you work with is key to keeping yourself off of thin ice. Never assume that just because you are good, or even very good, at the core skills that make up your job that you can get away with neglecting maintaining relationships with everyone that you work with. You never want to find yourself becoming isolated – don’t allow your management to start to ignore you. It’s always good to have friends at work, but make sure that you don’t surround yourself with people who won’t give you honest feedback on how you are doing.

What All Of This Means For You

There you are – performing you manager job. All of sudden your management calls you into their office and they tell you that your services are no longer needed. What happened? Things like this don’t just happen. You must have been on thin ice for awhile and you just didn’t know it. What you need to do is to develop the skills that are going to allow you to detect when this is happening.

As managers we can find ourselves on thin ice if our management starts to ignore us. This can happen if we don’t make the effort to maintain good communication with them. You may think that you are better at doing things than you really are. You may also be unable to realize that you are not good at doing specific things. In order to avoid finding yourself on thin ice, you need to take steps to become more aware of your work environment. This means finding out how your boss plans on evaluating you. To do this you’ll need to ask them questions about your job performance. Getting feedback from colleagues who will be honest with you is invaluable. In the end it all comes down to relationships. Stay on good terms with everyone that you are working with.

Managers who don’t take the time and effort to remain aware of their work environment are the ones who can find themselves on thin ice. You never want to allow this to happen to you. Take steps to understand what your management wants you to do and make sure that you are always getting feedback on your performance. Get involved when there is team building going on. Staying aware will keep you on solid ground.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What steps should a manager take when they determine that they may be on thin ice?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

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