Posted on 


 in ,

On High Performance Teams

This lengthy New York Times piece on the lessons that Google has learned from its lengthy quest to find out what makes an exceptional team was shared by a number of people I follow (and was also featured via Fraggl). It was fascinating to read how, after extensive research and data analysis of all kinds of different and potentially influential variable factors (in a programme called 'Project Aristotle'), there was no obvious common patterns or factors that emerged which separated teams that were high-performing from those that weren't. Team composition, longevity, degree of hierarchy, and the mix of personality, background, skills of the team members all made no difference. 

Instead, further research revealed that the group norms ('the traditions, behavioural standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather') that the team operated to seemed to play an important role in how successful a team was. Analysis of over a hundred groups for more than a year showed that the right norms could raise a group’s collective intelligence, and the wrong ones have the opposite effect (even when individual intelligence was high).

But whilst team norms differed widely in character, high performing teams all exhibited a high level of 'psychological safety'. Professor Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School defines this as a 'shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking', and also as describing a team climate that is 'characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves'. As the article points out, no-one likes to have to put on a 'work face' and pretend to be something that they are not. Feeling like you can really be yourself in the team and work environment and that work is more than just work, really matters. Anything that detracts from this impacts not just people's happiness, but how they perform. There's a lot of rubbish written about high performing teams but it turns out that a not insignificant part of it is all about how it makes us feel. 

Leave a Reply