How to Build a Perfect Team?

Google logoAn illuminating contribution has recently appeared on the New York Times Magazine: “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team”, by Charles Duhigg. We’ll present you with the highlights, because it’s clearly linked to our main interest – the teambuilding.




Project Aristotle

Teamworking team

Teamworking teamThe story began five years ago, when Google started a project, code-named Project Aristotle, which was meant to discover the characters of the perfect working team. The members of the project would study hundreds of Google’s teams to discover the reason behind their success and the failure of others. The success seemed not to depend on the characteristics of the members of the group: teams made of brilliant people could work badly, while teams with people of middling abilities could eventually show brilliant results.


Group norms

Given the difference of the groups, a single rule was hard to conceive, all except one: each of them had some “group norms”, acknowledged or even unspoken, different from the other groups’ norms. These norms can be described also like the traditions, the standard behaviors, even the culture of a given group. Nontheless, the reasearchers couldn’t understand how the group norms were related to the group’s successful strategies, since the group norms were very different too. The interesting point was that some groups were really successful, and others not; in front of different tasks, the firsts kept on finding effective solutions, while the seconds failed repeatedly. The success seemed to depend, at least in some cases, on the capacity of finding compromises. To which the researchers concluded:

“what distinguished the ‘‘good’’ teams from the dysfunctional groups was how teammates treated one another. The right norms, in other words, could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all the members were exceptionally bright.”

The characteristics of the ‘good’ groups seemed to be essentially two: first, every member of the group had the opportunity to speak, so that nobody would feel rejected; second, the members proved good abilities in non-verbal communication. This meant that they were able to foresee the others’ fellings according to their tone of voice, facial expression and so on.


Psychological safety

These results allowed psycology researchers to apply a new category: “psychological safety“:

“Within psychology, researchers sometimes colloquially refer to traits like ‘‘conversational turn-taking’’ and ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ as aspects of what’s known as psychological safety — a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. ‘‘It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

The psychological comfort of the team turned out to be more important than the members’ IQ. But is that really surprising? Google’s reasearch led to the same conclusions that every good manager instinctively knows: in a good team members are able to listen to one another, show sensitivity and support. But now it’s not only a matter of experience, but a datum of science that can be shared and used by big and little companies to improve their results.


Psychology of the teambuilding


If there’s someone who knows really well the importance of the psychological climate in a group of co-workers, is who works in the field of the teambuilding activities. No matter how smart team members are, they need to connect to one another in order to find the best problem-solving strategy. And what connection could exist without trust, mutual respect and sensitivity?

As a matter of fact, we’ve always applied the conclusions of Google’s researchers in our everyday work! Each time we help our clients build an efficient team, what we really do is create a safe space where everybody feels good and can express freely. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the results of the psychological research. On the contrary, the better we understand the mechanism of a good working team, we can quickly renew our approach to the teambuilding activities.

You want to improve your team? Contact us to organize a tembuilding activity!

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