Rise Performance Group

What Google Learned about Building Great Teams


In 2012, Google set out to identify why some of their internal teams flourished and others struggled.  The project, code-named Project Aristotle, studied hundreds of internal teams and a summary of the results was published by The New York Times.  They wrote:

What interested the researchers most, however, was that teams that did well on one assignment usually did well on all the others.  Conversely, teams that failed at one thing seemed to fail at everything.  The researchers eventually concluded that what distinguished the “good” teams from the dysfunctional groups was how teammates treated one another.  The right norms, in other words, could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all the members were exceptionally bright.

So what is the right way to treat each other?  What are the “right norms”?  Two specific themes were identified as a part of the culture of those teams.  Verne Harnish, author of Scaling Up, described them this way:

Conversational turn-taking – ”As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well, but if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.”

Average social sensitivity – “A fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.”

Together, these two factors provide what is called psychological safety – team members feel safe taking risks in expressing ideas and feelings.

One of the programs I love to facilitate with clients is called “The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.”  During the program, I work specifically with a team to help them understand the importance of vulnerability-based trust which I believe is a foundation of social sensitivity mentioned in the article.   Through the workshop, we help participants become intentional about creating more vulnerability-based trust with their team.

It is also my experience is that meeting structure and cadence can help facilitate the creation of both of these characteristics in a team.  If you’re team is struggling, try implementing these meeting tips to strengthen your cadence and develop a psychological safety zone with your team (steps 2 and 3 help ensure conversational turn-taking, and step 4 builds awareness of social sensitivity):

  1. Have regularly scheduled meetings with a specific purpose. The most popular meeting types among my clients are 1) daily huddle, 2) weekly report-out or performance review and 3) monthly strategic session for problem solving.  [bctt tweet=”It’s important to have regularly scheduled meetings – with a purpose. “]
  1. Make sure each and every team member attends the meeting and comes prepared to present. For example, in the Weekly Report Out, it can be an update on what projects have been completed, estimated completion dates for on-going projects and any potential risks to their plan.  For the Monthly Strategic Session, ask team members to bring (or submit in advance) their recommendations for solving the problem(s) chosen for that month’s meeting.
  1. Create space for each person to present. Kicking the meeting off by going around the table is a great way to get everyone involved right from the beginning.  [bctt tweet=”Create space in your meetings for every person to present. This builds a psychological safety zone and strengthens the team.”]
  1. As the leader, make sure that 80% of your time is spent listening. Specifically listen to make sure the participants are focused on the right priorities, that they are committed to results and that they are anticipating potential barriers to execution.

When you develop structure and cadence for your meetings, and allow space to build vulnerability-based trust, your psychological safety zone will expand and you can expect to see increased accountability and more problem solving among peers over time.  There is an increased degree of accountability and peer pressure when presenting in front of peers.

Get more information about how the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team could help strengthen your team.

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