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    What Makes An Effective Work Team
    The Vault

    What Makes An Effective Work Team

    September 2017

    What makes an effective work team? Ask most HR reps or CEOs that question and they’ll likely begin by rattling off the importance of experience and academic credentials. “Seasoned professionals” with letters behind their names -- MBA, Ph.D. -- make the perfect team. Turns out, that approach is dead wrong.

    In a study called Project Aristotle, described here by the NY Times, tech superpower Google set out to determine the secrets to team effectiveness. Specifically, Google sought to answer the question, “Why do some teams excel and some fall behind?” Certainly, there has to be a perfect mixture of skills, backgrounds, and traits that make up great teams.

    Over the course of two years, Project Aristotle studied 180 Google teams, conducted over 200 interviews, and analyzed over 250 team attributes. The result? No clear pattern of characteristics exists for creating the perfect team. Great.

    Frustrated, Project Aristotle’s researchers returned to research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on so-called "group norms" -- spoken or unspoken traditions, behavioral standards, and rules that govern how teams function when they gather. And after further research, Google found, it’s these group norms that make the difference.

    Through Google's Re:Work website, a resource that shares Google's research, ideas, and practices on people operations, the five key characteristics of enhanced teams are revealed:

    1. Psychological Safety

      Have you ever been in a meeting and held back questions for fear of seeming incompetent? Have you ever held back an idea for fear of it being perceived as ‘dumb’? It’s not a pleasant place to be.

      Now, imagine a different setting, one where colleagues feel safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask questions freely. Imagine a culture where employees and managers really let their guards down. That's psychological safety. And the companies that harness it retain employees longer, work in collaboration, and experience greater success.

    2. Dependability

      Ever been left holding the bag for one of your teammates because they shirked their responsibilities? How did you feel in that moment? Angry? Blamed? Again, not a great place to be.

      Effective teams are dependable. They do things well and on time. No one bows out. When you’re a part of that team, you want to keep working.

    3. Structure and clarity

      Remember that job where it seemed like no one knew what they were doing, or why? The team struggled to figure out who was responsible for what. How long did you last at that company?

      High-performing teams have clear, challenging, attainable goals and have well-defined roles within the group. They consistently perform because they understand their contribution is essential to the success of the group.

    4. Meaning

      “Why am I here? This work means nothing to me.” Ever said that? If so, my guess is that you had one foot out the door when you did.

      A team with a true sense of purpose in the work itself or the output is critical. When employees feel financially secure, when they feel valuable to the organization, team efficiency increases.

    5. Impact

      “This is so pointless.” Ever said that? Again, not a good sign.

      Effective teams believe their work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good -- their clients and their communities. Particularly with Millennials, this need to feel like work is making a difference in the world is paramount.

    Project Aristotle. Why that name? Because the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.” Apply that wisdom to work teams, and we see that the connection between individuals creates a power not seen when those same people work in isolation or when "impressive credentials" don't exist. As you look to your own teams, focus on the steps you need to take to bring these intangible elements into place. The success of your business depends on it.

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