by Tony Snider
To accomplish large tasks or brainstorm new brilliant ideas companies often turn to working in teams. Working together in teams or groups has many benefits; given you have a productive group that works well together. At Google, they conducted a study titled “Project Aristotle” that looked at over 100 teams of workers within Google itself trying to understand what exactly makes an efficient team. The majority of the work done at Google is done in teams, so the importance of finding out what worked best in terms of teamwork for them was imperative.
Google launched Project Aristotle in 2012, shortly after completing a similar study in “Project Oxygen”. Project Oxygen looked to see what makes a great manager. After the success of Project Oxygen, Google applied many of the same methods to discover the secrets of making the most effective teams at Google (Understanding Team Effectiveness, 2016). The atmosphere at Google is very relaxed, even a bit revolutionary. With this relaxed atmosphere and emphasis on worker satisfaction, a main aspect of the study was to determine if this atmosphere was beneficial or hurtful to work production and the generation of new and revolutionary ideas. This project studied many different types of employees as well; such as engineers, psychologists, and sociologists. Project Aristotle’s researchers began by reviewing a half-century of academic studies looking at how teams worked. They brought up questions like whether group participants worked best when they had similar hobbies and backgrounds and whether it was best if they were all outgoing or all shy.
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No matter how the researchers arranged their data, at first it was almost impossible to find any patterns or evidence that the composition of the team made any difference in their work production. This led Google to start looking in different directions, specifically toward norms. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. This means that some employees may behave in certain ways as individuals, but when they gather with others they may act differently. This often spurs groupthink, which is when employees will not express their own ideas to the group because it may go against what everyone thinks and they just want to make the work go smoothly (Duhigg, 2016). So Project Aristotle’s researchers began searching through their data looking for norms. The project’s results showed that an effective team was not necessarily scouting to see who should be on the team, but figuring out how well specific people meshed and worked together. Psychological safety was the main factor discovered in Project Aristotle. This showed how employees wanted to feel safe enough around their co-workers before exposing themselves and giving out their ideas. This meant that for a team to truly be successful it was up to the employees to get comfortable enough around one another to be vulnerable with each other with expressing their ideas (Schlossberg, 2016). Following psychological safety, Project Aristotle’s main factors to a successful group was dependability, structure and clarity, meaning and impact.
Google itself started in a small garage in California almost 20 years ago. It was started by two college buddies that had a vision, and that weren’t afraid to express their ideas to one another (Inside Google, 2016). Understanding how the whole company started only solidifies my agreement towards those findings of Project Aristotle. Because the two originators of Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) were comfortable around one another and were able to openly express their thoughts to each other, Google was able to flourish from just a small company operating out of a garage to one of the most profitable companies in the world today.
Had Larry Page and Sergey Brin been chosen by a board or selection committee to come up with a revolutionary idea based on who they were or how similar they are, Google probably would have never began. But since these two were genuinely close with one another and had psychological safety, Google was able to be born from their minds. I feel that Project Aristotle was very successful at being able to point out the main outlier for what makes a successful group. Although the project did not come away with any specific algorithm or addition of types of workers that create the best groups, they did find solid evidence at what makes groups work together the best, even if it was ironically evident in the beginning of the company itself with the relationship between Larry Page and Sergey Brin.