Google knows quite a bit about us. It probably has as much data on our individual preferences and online behaviours as any other organisation on the planet. It also spends much of its time and energy trying to understand itself.
One of its more interesting recent projects has been Project Aristotle, through which it has attempted to work out the algorithm to what constitutes a high performing team.
At which point the researchers no doubt planned to shout “Eureka!” Before no doubt going on to sell it to the rest of us for a fortune.
The results might surprise you. Whereas as some might expect the most effective teams to be made up of the most capable people, this is in fact not the case. Google’s analysis of 180 teams discovered instead that there were 5 attributes which had to be in place for a team to be effective.
- Dependability. Team members can be relied on to get stuff done
- Structure and clarity. People have clear roles and goals
- Meaning. The work has personal significance for team members
- Impact. People believe their work is for the greater good.
So far, so good.
Except that in my experience of working with teams of all shapes and sizes over the last 18 years, the list above is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.
Take #2, for example. People I come across are typically not very clear about their role, and even less so about their goals. They send some time once a year being told what their objectives are, and these are often ambiguous and beyond their scope to achieve single-handed.
#3 is often problematical because all too often the work has little or no significance for people because they do not know where it fits into the bigger picture and they have no collective sense of purpose.
#4 falls down when leadership in the organisation fails to communicate a higher level purpose other than to make more profit (often by stripping out yet more cost).
But wait! I said there were 5 attributes and I have only mentioned 4. I kept the best till last.
5. Psychological safety. An environment where it is safe to take risks.
Call me a pessimist if you like, but I fear this is probably the most challenging attribute to get right. Trust levels in the workplace are eroding rapidly, and research from PWC shows that 55% of CEO’s recognise this as an issue. I talk to many people who tell me that it is not OK to take risk: they hang back on asking questions, proposing alternatives, being honest about what they truly think and feel. This leads to conflict avoidance, false sense of well being, and ultimately poor performance. As Stephen Covey says in his book “The Speed of Trust”,
“When trust goes down, speed will also go down and costs will go up.”
Hardly the qualities we would look for in a high performing team.
Now that they have nailed what it takes to build the dream team, the hard work still lies ahead. Maybe Google will take it to the next level and work out what it takes to deliver all 5 attributes. Certainly they have the makings of what you might call a workforce strategy in the list above.
I wonder whether you recognise their list, and also whether you agree with my conclusion that delivering it has become more of a challenge in recent years. Please agree or disagree in the comments box below.
My forthcoming book “My Job Isn’t Working!” addresses these and other issues and what employees can do to find more happiness at work. If you’d like to contribute your perspective, please get in touch.