Google: Project Aristotle

By: Kenzie Fischer

In order to accomplish difficult tasks and brainstorm new ideas, large firms usually divide their workers into teams. Working together in groups has been proven to be more effective than working individually; assuming you have a productive group that gets along well. What exactly makes an “effective team”? According to (re:Work, 2016) teams are interdependent. The team members plan work, solve problems, make decisions, and review progress in service of a specific project. When Google launched Project Aristotle, they looked at over 100 teams of workers within their own company to figure out what exactly makes an efficient team.

In google-search2012, Google conducted a study called Project Aristotle. The main goal of Project Aristotle was to look at teams and figure out why certain groups worked while others did not. The study included Google’s top employees such as, psychologists, sociologists, and engineers. These employees believed that making the best teams meant combining the best people. The teams soon learned that this was not the case. At first, researchers found no patterns as to what made a team sink or swim; the composition of a team seemed to make no difference. While looking at past research, they continuously found that groups have norms that they followed. Norms are the “traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather” (Duhigg, 2016). When researchers began looking for norms within a group, they found there was inappropriate behavior within the groups. Some said that teammates interrupted each other constantly and that the team leaders would reinforce them by interrupting others themselves. After looking at over 100 groups for more than a year, Project Aristotle’s researchers found that understanding group norms were essential to improving Google’s teams.

In 2008, Harvard conducted a study to see if a group’s success had anything to do with the overall IQ of the group members. They divided over 600 people into small groups and gave them each a series of assignments. Some teams came up with numerous different uses. Other teams just kept describing the same ideas in different ways. What the researchers found was that teams that did well on one study typically did well on all the others. Therefore, teams that did poorly on one assignment seemed to fail at everything. Eventually they found that the success of the group was not dependent on the overall IQ and that a group full of average intelligence members could out- perform groups with all high IQ members (Duhigg, 2016).

Researchers soon found an important trend within the high performing groups in Project Aristotle; they all had high psychological safety. Psychological safety is defined as “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up” (Duhigg, 2016). With this discovery, everyone just suddenly understood. Another characteristic that was found to lead groups to success was their connection with each other. For example; one of the team’s leaders, Matt Sakaguchi, confessed that he has been struggling with cancer. This led others feel comfortable enough to bring up their own personal issues, which led to the connection with one another. This then led to more success within the team.

I found the results from Project Aristotle fascinating. I am not surprised that team members that have a connection will out- perform those who do not. Some people have that connection, and others just don’t. What really caught my attention was the example of Team A and Team B. It was difficult for me to choose what team I would want to join. I eventually settled for Team B. I think it is important to stay on track and get everything done that needs to be done, but I found that it would be hard for me to participate in Group A. Like the studies found, I would be more comfortable in a group with people I have a good connection with and who I would not be afraid to share my ideas with.

 

References

Duhigg, C. (2016). What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. Retrieved October 02, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html?_r=1

National Geographic – Inside Google (High-Definition). (n.d.). Retrieved October 02, 2016, from https://vimeo.com/55885729

Re:Work – Guide: Understand team effectiveness. (n.d.). Retrieved October 02, 2016, from https://rework.withgoogle.com/guides/understanding-team-effectiveness/steps/define-team/

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