Although most organizational experts agree that teamwork is important to organizational success and profitability, its significance has ballooned over recent years. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review cited that the time managers and employees spend collaborating on work and projects has increased by over 50 percent or more over the past two decades, and over three-quarters of an employee’s time at work is spent communicating with others. Additionally, teams tend to solve problems faster, find better solutions, and find mistakes more quickly than individual workers. This phenomenon is supported by research showing that those organizations with higher levels of collaboration not only have more productive and more satisfied employees, but not surprisingly, also show greater profitability.
Although researchers have studied how people work in teams for over four decades, the current boon in technology, and subsequently data, has enabled them to dig down to the very depths of what makes employees, and teams, more efficient. Research on the effectiveness of teams is being conducted on university and corporate campuses across the world, and at the forefront is the media giant, Google. In 2013 Google set out to find out what makes a Google team effective and why some teams outperform others; was it diversity in the group, was it the structure of the group, the individual skill sets? Previously, Google had conducted a research study to find out why some managers were more effective than others, discovering that those that act as coaches to their subordinates and don’t micro-manage them are more successful. But now the question was what makes a team more effective. This was important to Google since all of their over 60,000 employees work on at least one team. These teams can range from three people to over seventy and are mostly project-oriented. The researchers’ hypothesis was that those teams with the right mix of people with diverse traits and skills and the right motivation would be more effective. What they found, however, was surprising.
For two years a group of researchers from Google’s People Operations (HR) division conducted over 200 interviews with Google employees (Googlers as they call them) studying over 250 attributes of more than 180 teams. “We were pretty confident that we’d find the perfect mix of individual traits and skills necessary for a stellar team”, said Julia Rozovsky, an analyst for Google’s people operations and one of the researchers on the study, ..take one Rhodes Scholar, two extroverts, one engineer who rocks at Angular JS, and Ph.D. Voila. Dream team assembled, right?”. Wrong!! What she and the other researchers found was that who is on the team much less important than how the team structures their work, how the team members interact, and how they view their contributions. They threw their search for the “magical algorithm” out the window.
The research team found that the most successful teams at Google differed in five key dynamics: The most important dynamic, by far, was psychological safety. Those teams whose members felt it was safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other were the highest performers. Most people avoid risk taking at work, especially when working in teams with their colleagues. We are reluctant to admit we don’t know something or are timid to throw out a new idea in fear that it won’t be accepted, or even worse, laughed at. But those teams whose members are open to admitting a lack of knowledge or a need for clarification show an increased openness to accept diverse ideas and actually use them. The Google teams presenting a higher lever psychological safety are rated as effective twice as often by Google executives and bring in more revenue. The other key dynamics, although less important than psychological safety, are: dependability; structure and clarity; meaning; and impact.
Some of the Google findings were also supported by a recent university study published in the Academy of Management Journal. Professor’s Jasmine Hu and Robert Liden studied 67 teams across six organizations finding that the most effective teams felt their work would help colleagues, customers and the community – supporting the Google key dynamics of meaning and impact.
The Google study has universal implications for team-building and teamwork. Teams must be managed well, creating a safe environment with clear roles, plans and goals. The next time you are working on a team, make sure you focus on these five key dynamics for greater efficiency and effectiveness. Your actions will undoubtedly impact the outcomes in a positive way.