by Nathaniel E. Urban
The purpose of this case study is to effectively analyze the results of Google’s Project Aristotle. Project Aristotle studied over 100 work teams to understand the common qualities of tremendously effective teams. Google was on a quest to build the perfect team and Project Aristotle was the flagship. This case study will describe the purpose and key results of Project Aristotle, what the results mean when forming effective work teams, and the accuracy of the project’s results.
The purpose of Project Aristotle at Google was to figure out why some teams struggled while others ascended. A 2015 study said that teams were becoming the building blocks of organizations. It also said that an organization’s profits increase when employees are pushed to work with one another. Google firmly believed that studying employees could transform productivity. Google’s top executives all possessed pieces of conventional wisdom of what makes the best team but the truth was that no one had ever studied which of those pieces of information were true. No one really understand why some teams failed while others succeeded. Project Aristotle began its mission to discover the truth behind the failure and success of employees working in teams.
The key results of Project Aristotle found that something called psychological safety was critical to making a team succeed at its best. The definition is, “Psychological safety refers to a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. High psychological safety means that teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members without embarrassment or punishment from anyone in the team” (re: Work, 2016). For example, employees would not feel oblivious or intimidated to provide their input to the team. Employees would feel confident enough so that no other teammate would criticize them for asking a question, putting a new idea on the table, or admitting a mistake.
The results of Project Aristotle meant that an effective team was not really about who was on the team, but more about how the team worked together. Google’s first employee said, “In the beginning of the company, there were some people who we refused to hire. They may have been technologically qualified but they did not have the personality to work with us” (National Geographic, 2012). Psychological safety was the most important factor in Project Aristotle; followed by dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact. Employees wanted to feel safe enough to be vulnerable with each other, depend on each other to get work done on time, and structure the team so that everyone knew what they were doing. It was also important for work to be personally important to employees and that their work would create a type of change. Project Aristotle, lastly, allowed for more diversity of ideas and collective commitment. Employees were able to support each other’s work and ideas that contributed to their tasks. A larger diversity of ideas, along with psychological safety, allowed employees to feel comfortable enough to present their own ideas and decisions for the team.
I do believe that Project Aristotle’s results were accurate. Google employees now had a method for, “Talking about our insecurities, fears and aspirations in more constructive ways. It also has given us the tools to quickly teach lessons that once took managers decades to absorb” (Duhigg, 2016). I believe an effective team could not exist without psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact. Each factor, honestly, depends on each other and the effectiveness of the team. One of the most effective teams that I have worked with was the team I had when I planned my fraternity’s faculty dinner. We all knew what each other was good at. No one competed to do the other person’s job because we all did our individual job with our own passion and commitment. We honestly could not have done it without each other.
The results of Project Aristotle will one day influence my decisions in leading a work team. One of the most important qualities of a great team leader is to, “Connect with the team. Demonstrate respect, respect who they are, and respect why they are there” (Story, 2015). If one of my team members had something going on in their personal life I would feel ashamed if they did not feel comfortable enough to share it with either myself or other team members. My team meetings would start with each team member taking a few minutes to talk about what may be going on in their personal lives. Once everyone gets something off of their mind then we can focus on our work efficiency for the day.
re: Work. (2016). Guide: Understand Team Effectiveness. Retrieved from https://rework.withgoogle.com/guides/understanding-team-effectiveness/steps/introduction/
Duhigg, C. (2016, February 25). What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html?_r=0
National Geographic. (2012). Inside Google. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/55885729
Story, M. (2016, January 7). 5 Traits of Highly Effective Team Leaders. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-traits-highly-effective-team-leaders-mack-story