By: Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, Fellow PRSA

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Dec 4, 2015 | Linhart Blog, Our Community

Searching for Ways to Make Your Team More Effective? Just Ask Google

business team meeting at office

Most organizations accomplish projects and goals with the help of teams, whether it’s two employees figuring out a better process or a cross-functional group tasked with developing the next great product. We’re often assigned to teams based on our skills, personality, location or availability. Sometimes, it may seem there’s no rhyme or reason to our team make-up.

If teams are how we get work done, what makes a great, high-performing team? Google set out to answer this question with a study of its more than 180 active teams. The company’s recently released findings showed it’s less about who is on the team and more about how the team members interact, structure their work and view their contributions. Google found five keys to successful teams at their company:

1. Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?

3. Structure and clarity: Are goals, roles and execution plans on our team clear?

4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?

5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

The most important out of them all? Psychological safety. “Turns out, we’re all reluctant to engage in behaviors that could negatively influence how others perceive our competence, awareness, and positivity,” Google researchers said. “Although this kind of self-protection is a natural strategy in the workplace, it is detrimental to effective teamwork. On the flip side, the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles.”

To top it all off, Google also discovered that employees on teams with higher psychological safety ratings are more likely to stay with Google, harness more diverse ideas, and bring in more revenue. Plus, they are rated effective twice as often by executives.

Given the findings, how can you create better teams? Here are three ideas:

  • Encourage and model risk-taking. If you’re leading a team, demonstrate in words and actions that it’s okay to be human and learn from mistakes. At Google, for example, some teams are now kicking off meetings by sharing a risk taken the previous week.
  • Get started on the right foot. Time invested upfront to determine team’s structure and purpose will get you to the right destination faster and smarter. It seems common sense, but we’ve all been on teams where roles and goals have been unclear. At a minimum, determine and communicate why the team exists (goals and what success looks like), how the team will accomplish its work (processes, structure, timing and resources) and how decisions will be made and by whom (accountabilities).
  • “Take five” (or 10) to discuss the five factors. Google created a 10-minute pulse-check tool that assesses how the team is doing around the five dynamics and offers ideas for improvement. You may not need a formal tool, but the five factors are a good checklist to discuss with your team to determine what’s working and where you could do better. Google says its teams most appreciate having the framework, which forces good conversations about the dynamics.


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