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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Building Great Teams – Not the Whos but the Hows

By Thomas Eden

Project Aristotle, started by Google in 2012, sought to answer how to build that perfect work team and understand maximizing team effectiveness. Results were released externally in 2016.

Project Aristotle findings:
1. Data was gathered and assessed from 180 Google teams.

2. Two-year long effort started in 2012.

3. No patterns detected to correlate why some succeeded and others didn’t.

4. Teams with similar makeup or even some of the same members demonstrated varying results.

5. Metrics like personal friendships, strong management, team structure, personal interests, gender, or longevity provided no clear insight.

6. Group norms were found to be key to teams’ success. Group norms are unwritten and often unspoken rules guiding the behavior of the teams.

7. Final determination was that a group of superior individuals was less important than the collective ability of the team.

Five key norms of highly effective teams as determined in the Project Aristotle report were:

1. Teams need to believe their work is important (Vision Statement);

2. Teams need to feel that their work is personally meaningful (how they fit into the Company Vision);

3. Teams need clear goals and defined roles (Team Mission Statement and job descriptions);

4. Team members need to know they can depend on one another (Statement of Values); but

5. Most importantly teams need psychological safety (combination of social sensitivity and equal voice)

Psychological Safety - the mystery solved. Google found teams were highly successful because there was a feeling of psychological safety:

· because teammates felt they could trust each other;

· that honest discussion could occur without fear of retribution;

· that members would have roughly equal voices; and

· teammates showed that they were sensitive to one another's emotions and needs.

Establishing psychological safety begins with effective team leader asking such questions:
· Are you encouraging equality in speaking, or rewarding the loudest people?

· Are you modeling and encouraging active listening by summarizing what people say after they have said it?

· Are you demonstrating and encouraging a sensitivity to what people think and feel, or are you letting decisive leadership be an excuse for not paying as close attention as you should?

· Are you admitting when you don't know the answer and encouraging transparency?

· Are you ending a meeting before all team members have spoken at least once?

· Are you encouraging people who are upset to express their frustrations and encourage other teammates to respond in non-judgmental ways?

· Are you calling out inter-group conflicts and resolving them through open discussion, thereby encouraging a work team built upon mutual respect?

Common Sense Counsel: So if you want a workplace team that produces extraordinary transformative results, you need look no further that what Google learned from Project Aristotle. It is the Hows your teams operate and not the Whos on them that makes the critical transformational difference. Next week - Google’s People Analytics’ Project Oxygen which examined why some team leaders fostered smarter, faster, and better teams than others. Great Teams start with Great Leaders!

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and can be contacted at or 334-246-2901 and blog at