High-performing teams are the cornerstone of any successful organisation. The question is how to create great teams that do their best work. Over 10 years ago, in 2012, Google set out to find the answer. Its seminal study on team performance is more relevant than ever in today’s world of constant change and remote work and was recently revisited with new insights.
This Google project, named after the Greek philosopher Aristotle, researched the behaviours of over 200 teams. Their research looked into how ‘real’ teams performed, looking at the qualities within teams and exploring their effectiveness – drawing on both qualitative and quantitative data.
They considered factors such as levels of intelligence, introversion or extraversion, workload, tenure, size of teams, levels of success and leadership styles. Their hope was to find the perfect algorithm to create high-performance teams.
Their answer surprised them: it wasn’t about the right people. What matters is not who are on the team, but the relationships between them. They identified 5 key factors within successful teams that make all the difference.
Key 1: Psychological Safety
Top of the list is psychological safety – which doesn’t mean a nice warm bath! – but rather an environment where individual team members feel safe to take risks in front of one another. To challenge and disagree, agreeably.
Questions to consider within your team:
- Do all people in the team feel that they can ask questions and make suggestions without fear of ridicule?
- Do they feel a sense of belonging, that it is okay to be vulnerable and important to have fun?
- Does everyone have a voice, rather than just those who are more confident or dominant?
- Are team members encouraged to challenge the process rather than the person?
In a hybrid way of working, where we aren’t bumping into each other in the corridor or meeting while making tea in the canteen, we need to allow for 121 meetings and ask questions to check in on how people are getting on. Give extra consideration for newer team members teams who may not have had the chance to develop informal relationships within the team.
Key 2: Dependability
Second on the list is dependability: each team member does high quality work on time.
Actively acknowledge what is expected and ensure that standards within high-performing teams are recognised.
- Are all team members motivated to achieve the best quality work possible?
- Can we rely on colleagues to consistently perform and deliver innovative, sustainable outcomes?
We are a product of our environment, so ensuring that the team culture supports the best possible ways of working pays handsome dividends.
Key 3: Structure and Clarity
Third is structure and clarity: are there clear goals, roles and plans – both for the short term and the long term?
- What is needed? By when? Who is responsible?
- How often do we need check ins? How will they be done? Remote, using a platform such as Slack, or in person?
- Are agendas clear and circulated before team meetings?
Key 4: Meaning
Fourth is knowing what brings a sense of meaning to an individual’s work. A wonderful story from Victor Frankl, the Auschwitz concentration camp survivor and best-selling author of Man’s Search for Meaning, tells of three bricklayers building a wall being asked, ‘What are you doing?’ One replies that he ‘is laying bricks to earn money to feed his family’; the second says he ‘is building a wall’ and the third replies that he ‘is building a cathedral – a place of worship’. This third bricklayer ultimately goes on to lead the team.
- What gets you out of bed in the morning?
- What aspect of what you do really enjoy and find motivating?
Knowing our purpose brings our life’s motivations to our work, which brings our work to life. I remember hearing a quote that ‘in life you are very lucky to know what your song is and be able to sing it’. Give thought to what your song might be.
Key 5: Impact
The fifth is feeling that what you do has impact. My work matters.
- Can I identify how my work impacts others?
- How does our work as a team impact the bigger picture?
Team leaders need to ensure that each person on the team knows their value and how their individual contribution is part of something bigger. Particularly in a time of great uncertainty and volatility, feeling centred by the value of each individual team member can be a game changer.
High-performing teams: Conclusion
Who is on a team matters much less than how the team members interact, structure their work and view their contributions.
Given our world of volatility, uncertainty, constant change and remote work, these findings have never been more relevant.