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Google's Project Aristotle: What makes a good team?

Teamwork vs. autonomous working? The never ending debate... There's a lot to be said for both ends of the spectrum, but do the benefits of collaborative team working outweigh what a silo way of working may offer? A great place to start, is to question what exactly a team is? Teams are highly interdependent functions who plan work, solve problems and make decisions together. A team has the potential to be the core unit where real collaboration, togetherness and creation emerges from. However, there is always the threat of interpersonal conflict, unclear boundaries and undefined goals which can rock any team structure. So the real question remains: what makes a good team in the workplace?

What is Project Aristotle?
Following on from the success of Google's Project Oxygen in the quest to find out what makes a good manager, the same team went on to discover what in fact makes an effective team. The project's name emerged from Aristotle's famous quote "the who is greater than the sum of its parts", where Google wanted to test the hypothesis that a team can do more together, than alone. They researched and interviewed over 180 teams comprising of 3-50 employees, and out came five key traits of a successful team, centered around working together, not individual IQ. At Google, a team is a highly interdependent group of employees who work together and need each other to complete the desired task at hand.

Five traits of successful teams:

1. Psychological Safety
Team members always need a safe space to work, question, take risks and even make mistakes, without the fear of judgment, feeling incompetent or the greater ramifications. If one knows they have the safety net of the wider team, they are more likely to act for the greater whole, knowing they have the backing to do so. This way, individuals can, in fact, be vulnerable and open, and will know there is no need to be embarrassed, beat around the bush or try sugar coating a situation, because they are secure enough in their team relationship. Team members should not have to feel like their every move or decision is being analyzed by microscopic micromanaging, but rather supported by a coherent whole.

2. Dependability
This is key in a team setting, where all members of the team are able to rely on each other to complete a required task. This adds an element of accountability where one knows they need to have things done on time and in a correct way, in order for the whole network to move forward. Expectations play a big role here, as each and every individual is expected to act and work to a certain standard in order to not let the team down. It is about the bigger picture, not just what suits one. 

3. Structure and Clarity
Teams need structure in order to succeed. Some degree of flexibility and agility is helpful too, but if there is no structure and process, each and every team member will do things in their own manner which may or may not compliment the workings of the others. Everyone needs to have clearly defined roles, goals, plans and agendas, and these all need to be interconnected and interrelated into to best succeed as a team. Team members should have an universal understanding of what is to be achieved collectively and there should always be open communication throughout the team for clarity as well as confidence. It is always advisable to have a designated leader of a team, who is also involved in the day-to-day running of the task, who can lead, advise and regulate how everyone works together, ensuring there is no slacking or other routes to diminishing what the team is set out to accomplish.

4. Meaning
Work should always provide a sense of purpose and meaning to each and every team member, in one way or another. Be it in terms of security, freedom, personal satisfaction, growth and so on. Individuals should have a reason to get up and go to work, instead of loathing every minute of the day. Teams will succeed when its members want to be a part, are proud to be a part and want to go above and beyond because they care and value the role / organisation.  According to Gallup, employees who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged at work. 

5. Impact
Team members should feel that their work and their individual contributions are purposeful and matter, as well as are an important part of the greater whole. There should be a sense that without their input, there would be a sense of lacking, so they understand how important they are in the bigger picture. The same concept of a missing puzzle piece: if 999 pieces are done, but 1 is missing, it will be evident it is not entirely complete. 

Efficient teams are more about putting people in a room and expecting them to get on together. It's crucial there is collaboration, a common goal and consensus of the desired outcome. Expertise and skills are a massive pre-requisite too, but emotional co-dependence, relationship building and mutual respect make a team great. It is not always about IQ vs. EQ. Understanding each other's emotions, ways of thinking and inner workings lay the fundamentals for a great team. With this in mind, what makes a great team for you? 

Xexec understands the importance of a collaborative employee relationship. Download our latest e-Book on Employee Engagement and discover some innovative ways to ensure team engagement and collaboration.

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