Everybody wants to be part of a high-performing and result-driven team.
The difficult part is everybody has different ideas of what a high-performing team looks like.
What then is the secret that successful teams have? How can a team move beyond individual differences to work together effectively and achieve success?
What is Google’s Definition of a “High Performing Team”?
In 2012, Google launched a comprehensive research initiative called Project Aristotle which spanned over 2 years and involved 180 teams. It aimed to find out what made teams effective within the company.
Their findings provided clear principles on how you can create a high-performing team in the organisation.
While the research team hypothesised that the answer would be related to employees’ technical expertise and skills, the results took a surprising turn.
The most significant finding was the importance of building psychological safety within teams for them to be effective.
Psychological safety refers to an environment where members feel safe to experiment, voice out their opinions and be honest with each other without fearing negative repercussions.
They concluded that teams with high levels of psychological safety tend to achieve better-performing standards as members are more willing to contribute ideas freely, ask questions and be proactive in discussions.
Here’s an overview of how Google carried out the research and the relevant key findings.
At the start of their research, researchers kept coming across “group norms”. This refers to traditions, behavioural standards and unwritten rules on how to function as a team. While one team believes compromising is more beneficial than confronting, another team might believe in threshing out all disagreements.
Its impact on the team’s effectiveness is profound as such group norms usually override individual values and beliefs.
As such, researchers tried searching for norms in the collected data. Was it more effective for everyone to speak up, or should there be a clear leader to veto? Was it better to have disagreements or should there be compromises made?
Despite scouring such patterns amongst successful teams, the data was inconclusive. There were too many patterns and possibilities. The researchers could not identify the “it” factor to build an effective team.
According to research by a group of psychologists from Carnegie Mellon, M.I.T. and Union College, the ‘right’ norms could increase team effectiveness, while the ‘wrong’ norms would disable a team even if all its members were highly capable.
Interestingly, not all the good teams behaved in the same way. Google took this research result as a direction for how they further observed the teams.
They conducted over 200 interviews and collected team performance metrics, individual performance evaluations and survey responses from team members from teams across various departments and functions.
The survey included questions related to team members’ perceptions of safety, their comfort level in experimentation and their experience working with their team. These teams were not experimental but rather real employees working in a corporate setting.
They studied teams with the following factors:
- Comprised of a few high-performers
- Consists of an experienced manager
- Access to all resources
Google analysed over 250 different team attributes, and compared the survey responses and team performances, drawing correlations between team dynamics and performance indexes.
Contrary to their hypothesis, these factors did not increase team effectiveness nor construct the norms they were looking for to build a high-performing team.
Instead, Google found that there were 5 factors, ranked according to importance, that made the difference.
The most crucial factor would be psychological safety. This means that all members of the team would be safe to take risks and be honest with their colleagues. Members would listen to each other and be sensitive to others’ emotions and needs.
- Psychological Safety: Teams with higher levels of psychological safety consistently outperformed those with lower levels.
- Dependability: Teams that perform well have a high level of trust where they can count on each other to generate results.
- Structure and Clarity: Successful teams communicated goals and expectations so that everyone understood their role and how it contributed to generating results.
- Meaning: Team members who find their purpose in doing what they do are more motivated to produce results.
- Impact: Team members feel that the ideas and work they do contribute to the organisation’s overall goal.
When the team leader can encourage open communication, practise active listening and initiate vulnerability, they create a culture of psychological safety and this in turn generates positive results on the team’s performance and ability to innovate.
Impact on Innovation: Teams with high psychological safety were more likely to share novel ideas and challenge each other in discussions.
Impact on Performance: Teams with high psychological safety tended to perform better not only in terms of task performance but also in terms of job satisfaction and overall well-being.
Why Is This Important In Building A High-Performing Team?
After the pandemic, disruptions to workflow and routines call for a need to heighten the way we collaborate with others. The key to that is psychological safety, where regardless of the mode of communication, everyone can safely share their concerns and ideas.
The good news is that it’s not about the people, but about how we interact with each other. We cannot change who we work with but we can change how we interact with them.
This separates team effectiveness from volatile factors. Therefore, building psychological safety ensures sustainability and longevity of team effectiveness as it is independent of individual capabilities and environmental circumstances.
To summarise, Project Aristotle reflects the correlation between psychological safety and team effectiveness. If we want to strengthen team performance, perhaps it is time to recalibrate our focus. When individuals feel safe to express themselves, take risks, and contribute their unique perspectives, it not only enhances their well-being but also leads to more effective teams.
Creating psychological safety is an ongoing journey that requires continuous effort and attention. Hence, it is important to regularly assess the team’s dynamics, solicit feedback, and adjust strategies accordingly.
We want to support you in your leadership journey. Hence, we have curated a quiz to help your team consider whether these 5 factors are established within your group norms. It allows your team to know where they stand and how they can develop behaviours that encourage the growth of a high-performing team.
You can also work with Deep Impact to establish these group norms in your organisation. Contact us to explore how we can shape your organisation’s team performance.