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What Does It Take to Make a Great Team?

Team Building (c) New York Times by James Graham

Google is one of the most successful companies in history.  It got there in part by optimizing its personnel and how they work together to innovate and be efficient. But even Google wasn’t sure what makes a team great.  They finally engaged a researcher with Harvard and Yale credentials to research what made some teams work better than others: Their findings about their own successes surprised even Google veterans.  (source: What Google Learned from its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, New York Times)

Google’s People Operations department has scrutinized everything: how employees ate together and socialized after hours, how the managers communicated, what motivated teams to talk to each other, what skill sets and personalities worked best together. Top executives had long believed that the best teams started with the best people. They had also used conventional wisdom on personalities, like putting similar people together to work similarly. And like many tech companies, Google thought that getting people to socialize and be friendly away from work projects would build team cohesion – all of those team-building activities and parties would build familiarity and communication between people. But most of these assumptions were turned on their head by the research.

So what makes a good team? The data from 180 teams was scattered and unclear — there were no patterns around types of personality types or skills, people liked all kinds of structures from hierarchical teams to flat teams, and identical teams would show very different levels of effectiveness.

The real answer was simpler, but also harder to define:  respect and trust.

An engineer from one of the best teams told researchers that his manager was ‘‘direct and straightforward, which creates a safe space for you to take risks.’’ By contrast, an engineer from a poor-performing team said his ‘‘team leader has poor emotional control.’’ He added: ‘‘He panics over small issues and keeps trying to grab control. I would hate to be driving with him being in the passenger seat, because he would keep trying to grab the steering wheel and crash the car.’’

All of the traits for a successful team dynamic involved trust and respect:  The ability to voice ideas without fear of ridicule, or voice dissent without fear of reprisal; an ability to joke around and be familiar with each other; enthusiasm for each others’ ideas; feeling safe about sharing difficulties and challenges in their personal lives; and a team dynamic that let everyone in the group be heard equally.

Listening, respect, trust, communication, enthusiasm – how do successful companies build these softer traits through training and policies?  Google began to survey teams on how safe they felt. They counseled managers to encourage fair listening practices in meetings and group work. They started talking about how to encourage employees to share health or personal issues that impacted work, without fear of reprisal. Just starting these conversations and training managers to think about respect shifted group dynamics.

Read the full article on the New York Times.

Learn more about Panoramicand how it can support communication and engagement for all kinds of teams.  Contact Paladin to set up a demonstration and learn more about how we can support your agency’s workforce readiness.

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