How To Create High-Performing Teams - What I learned from Google

Anthony Mersino
March 15, 2016

I was excited to read this recent New York Times Article describing research done by Google to determine the characteristics of the best performing teams. Google studied the data on team performance to glean what they could about how to create high performing teams. The results were surprisingly simple: the best teams created safety for their team members. The implications are important.

At 5,500+ words, the article is definitely TLTR. You can read my summary of the article below and then decide if you want to read the whole article.

My Key Takeaways:

• Teams are Important - Teams are a fundamental building block of the organization and how work gets done. Compared to individuals, teams innovate faster, create better solutions, make fewer mistakes, and result in higher employee engagement. Good teams can provide a competitive advantage.

• Who is on the Team is not important - We tend to think of Google employees as a bunch of rock stars (and I am sure they are). But when it came down to performance, the research found that it was more about the team interactions and group norms than the particular individuals. It was about how the team worked together.

• Creating Safety Matters & Teams Need Good Communications and Empathy - The best performing teams had what was called psychological safety which included communications and empathy. Communications was about everyone having equal opportunities to speak and feeling like they were heard. Empathy was about reading how others are really feeling.  One technique they referred to was called 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test'. By seeing others faces and eyes, team members could discern what others were really feeling, which created safety.

Implications for all organizations

• If You Aren’t Investing in Teams You Are Likely Not Competing Well - Are you investing in your teams to get the performance you need?  Are you assigning people to projects without considering whether it will be an effective team? Are you creating “teams” which have the opportunity to be high performing, using good communications and empathy?

• Teams Need to Address and Encourage Effective Norms - Do you use a process for teams to form Team Norms, Team Agreements or Team Values Statements? Do you know the signs of team distress?  Are you addressing teams that lack effective norms or teams that suffer from high turnover?

• Leaders and Facilitators Need Training - Do you train teams leaders and facilitators in techniques that encourage equal participation from everyone? Or do you have hierarchical teams where one person dominates the conversation? Do you train on empathy and other emotional intelligence tools?

• Companies Should Evaluate the Effectiveness of their Distributed Team - Most companies today establish distributed teams without really giving any thought to whether they would be more effective with co-located teams.  It’s kinda hard to discern the feelings of some disconnected person on the other end of a conference call.  Do your teams meet face to face or have high-bandwidth communication tools allowing you to look each other in the eyes? 

Follow this link to read the NYT article.  

(Hat tip to my friend Tomas J. who prompted me to read the article.)

 

About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.

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