Working in Teams and Google’s Experience

By Seth Ansell

Working together in groups is essential to almost every job, especially jobs within large corporations. Google conducted a study called “Project Aristotle” that studied over 100 teams within the company to identify characteristics that make an efficient team. They wanted to find what made some teams mesh well together and what caused other groups to flop. This case study will review the research, analyze the results, and add my own personal experience and opinion.

Project Aristotle began in 2012 and studied over 100 teams within the Google company. The study included top employees within Google, such as statisticians, psychologists, sociologists, and engineers. At first, the study seemed stagnate; no pattern was found in what could cause a team’s success or failure; the composition of the members of the team did not seem to effect anything. The researchers then looked at past research and found that past studies by psychologists concluded that groups had norms which they followed. Norms are defined as “the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather” (Duhigg, 2016). Another study by Harvard that the Googlers looked at found that group success was not dependent on the overall IQ of the members, and that a group full of average intelligence individuals could out-perform groups with all high IQ members (Duhigg, 2016).

Skills that are most useful to have to work at Google
Example of casual team setting at google. Photo Credit: BusinessInsider.com

 

Eventually the researchers found a major trend within the high performing groups in Project Aristotle; they all had high psychological safety. Psychological safety meant that people felt safe to express their ideas and that no one was afraid to contribute. This explained why a group of average IQ teammates could outperform a group of individuals with above average IQs. Another characteristic that usually led to success of a team was their connection to one another; for example, a team leader named Sakaguchi told his team members about his struggle with cancer. This allowed others to bring up personal issues in their own life and allowed the members to connect and bond which lead to more success (Duhigg, 2016).

It also was found that if one finds their teammates dependable, found a purpose or meaning in their work, and felt that their personal work was making a positive difference resulted in more efficient groups. Google also found factors that had no relevance on group performance: location of teammates, extroversion of team members, workload, seniority, team size, and individual performance. Even though these variables were not important within Google’s culture, they still may be prevalent in other groups in other organizations; “these variables did not significantly impact team effectiveness measurements at Google, that doesn’t mean they’re not important elsewhere. For example, while team size didn’t pop in the Google analysis, there is a lot of research showing the importance of it” (Re:Work, N/A).

While Google’s Project Aristotle puts positive light on group work and seems to suggest as long as teams connect they can work well together, research at Harvard shows some of the cons and current complications of group work, specifically lopsided workloads. Their research suggests that one third of collaborations come from 3-5% of employees, which shows that teamwork can give credit to a group of people when only a small portion are making valuable contributions (Cross, 2016).

I agree with the results from the Aristotle Project; I think that it is no surprise that teams that have a high psychological safety and connection between members will outperform those that do not. I think the big surprise from Google’s study is the characteristics that seem to not have a large impact on performance; such as individual IQ of participants, team size, and extroversion of participants. However, when it is kept in mind that this study only looked at employees of Google, the results are less surprising. A possible solution on why IQ does not make a big difference is because Google is already selective on employees that it accepts. Google is known to only accept the best of the best; which may mean there is a smaller range of IQs than the regular work place. Google also puts large focus on group work; which may explain why the team size and extroversion of participants did not have a large effect. The employees may already be used to working in an assortment of group-sizes and may be accustomed to group work whether or not they are personally extroverted or introverted. I personally have experienced both effective groups and ineffective group, and while I agree that knowing your teammates on a personal level helps; it is not required for an effective group. I have worked within many groups were discussion was limited but yet the work got done; this is usually prevalent in class groups.

While I believe the work that the researchers conducted in Project Aristotle was insightful to Google’s workplace culture and their dynamics, I do not believe their characteristics for a “successful” team will always result in success. Because Google hires a specific type of thinkers and is honed in on group work, their results are not indicative of results for all organizational groups, specifically because other research puts importance and success on variables that the Google study may not find important. I believe further research should be conducted for insight on different work-place cultures and how different work-place culture changes the characteristics and variables for group success.

 

References

Cross, R., Rebele, R., & Grant, A. (2016, January/February). Collaborative Overload.                     Retrieved September 30, 2016.

Duhigg, C. (2016, February 27). What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the                         Perfect Team. Retrieved September 30, 2016.

Re:Work. (N/A). Understand team effectiveness. Retrieved September 30, 2016.

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