Key Teamwork Traits

Does hiring the best candidates really produce the best teams?  So many times we find companies bring in superstars who don’t “gel” into a high performance teams, especially in sports.  So what should we be looking for to generate high performing teams?

Google recently conducted a study of its employees to discover the “secrets” to team effectiveness.  Many executives believed that building the best teams meant compiling people with Advanced degrees (e.g., PhD, MBA0 from the best colleges would generate the best teams.  As Julia Rozovsky, Google’s chief analytics manager noted, “we were dead wrong”.

Project Aristotle studied 180 Google teams, conducted 200+ interviews and analyzed over 250 team attributes, over a period of two years – and found no clear pattern of characteristics that could be plugged into a “dream-team” generating algorithm. However, when they switched to psychological and sociological perspective addressing how groups function, five characteristics of enhanced teams emerged, with the last being the most important:

  • Dependability – Team member understand the expectations and get things done on time and meet the performance standards
  • Structure and clarity – High performing teams have clear goals and well-defined roles with the group context.
  • Meaning – each member should be engaged in the group activity through personal and group-goal meaningfulness.
  • Impact – The group as a whole believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts on the greater good.
  • Psychological safety – When group members fear seeming incompetent in front of the group, they hold back questions or ideas. In a culture where there is psychological safety, and managers provide air cover and create safe zones, members are more likely to take risks, voice options and ask judgement-free questions. Google found that teams in “safe environments” were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity and ultimately more successful.

As a psychologist with special training in personality, social, organizational, and leadership issues, the findings aren’t surprising.  A successful group is more than the sum of its parts. Employers need to hire people and organize them into existing or new teams and to create new teams. Further, as companies move from traditional hierarchical organizational models to the “network-team model” (which we’ve spoke about in prior blogs), finding people who can flourish in a team-of-teams approach will be essential.

What are your experiences in these areas?  Share insights and questions.

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