What Can Google Teach Managers About Teams?

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.