Have you ever been on a team, that in theory, never stood a chance? The opposition was much stronger or the task was just too difficult. And then something magical happened. Your team played better than ever, stuck on point and delivering unexpected results. That feeling!
You have also probably had the opposite experience. The team that looks great on paper but can’t get its stuff together. Infighting, confusion and panic, leading to more mistakes – you want to quickly forget those experiences of team!
What makes the difference between great and poor teams? Researchers within Google asked that question and came up with 5 keys (read the full Gooogle blog post here):
- Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
- Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
- Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
- Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
- Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
By far the biggest influence, and that is why it is listed at 1, is “Psychological safety“. What creates it?
- People being genuinely interested in each others lives – this sounds simple but how often do we forget that people are not machines and that they have a lot going on in their lives besides this team or project. Genuine interest in the person creates psychological safety because people know that there is concern for your well-being and not just the task. Paradoxically, by directing attention away from the project for the first 10 minutes of the day, the project goals are more likely to be achieved by the end of the day. Listening to each other, is a key to creating great teams.
- Giving people equal opportunities to speak – the other interesting observation from Google, after observing great teams in action, was that on average everyone spoke more or less an equal amount of time. Why does this work? It gives voice to the quieter members of the group, who might have great ideas, but otherwise not the opportunity to share them. It also increases ownership, as everyone has had a chance to design the process.
You can read more about the implications of the Google research in Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg (here is a 2 min video). The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter so much WHO is on the team, but rather HOW they team together.