Dr. Susan Cain of The Corporate Learning Institute reviews the recent article, What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, by Charles Duhigg, New York Times Magazine, February 25, 2016. The Corporate Learning Institute has helped develop strong, interdependent teams since 1986.
What makes some teams successful while others falter? We can thank Google for perhaps the most useful and comprehensive research study to date to find the answer.
Initiated in 2012 under the code name “Project Aristotle”, Google deployed research teams to study hundreds of work teams throughout the organization for more than a year. At first the research teams could not hone in on the common denominators of high performing vs. under-performing teams. Could it be the right mix of people? Or maybe a well-disciplined approach to achieving goals?
The project researchers soon discerned two types of teams; an “A” team who stayed on task and on topic, allowing different experts on the team to speak on their key topics at length, and redirecting side conversations back on the agenda topic. To an observer, this team would appear to be on-target, organized and high performing.
But the researchers found another team style, one they labeled “B” teams, who appeared freer flowing and more focused on shared conversation. This group would appear to an outside observer as being more disorganized and off-topic.
The researchers found that the collective intelligence of the “B” group to be greater than the “A” group where individual intelligence took precedence over collective intelligence. To understand how this happened, researchers studied the norms of each group, and found that the difference in the two groups lied in how team members treated each other.
They found from the “B” teams that shared conversation time and sensitivity to other’s feelings led to a psychologically safe environment. In this environment, team members could feel safe to take the risks needed to probe issues and confront complicated problems.
Other researchers such as Amy Edmondson at Harvard have written about the team culture that supports a sense of psychological safety. She found that psychologically safe teams develop mutual trust and respect, and support personal authenticity. Edmondson wrote, “Psychological safety is a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.” (Edmondson, 1999).
The Corporate Learning Institute has worked with hundreds of teams to develop the psychological safety needed to drive engagement and results.
“Helping teams breakthrough to high performance is less about working harder and more about finding how to fully engage and support each team member,” Dr. Tim Buividas, CLI Partner commented. “And helping teams develop the operating norms to feel safe and comfortable together is critical. The challenge is to help teams really get beyond the superficial relationship point, then to value and leverage eachperson’s expertise. Really, it is important to help teams look beyond their performance targets to develop safe and effective cultures. Teams who develop operating norms are more honest and supportive of each other and are then freed up to do their best work,” he concluded.