Did Google Discover The Secret to Making a Dream Team?
It’s not as simple as just hiring the best people
Photo by leah hetteberg on Unsplash
Teams are tricky. I’m not talking about Microsoft Teams, the software ingrained in minds thanks to the pandemic; I’m talking about a group of people coming together to work on a shared goal. Put enough of such people together, and you have to think hard about how to manage it.
Going out with 2–3 close friends is easy. You all probably like the same kind of food and have no problem deciding the best place to eat. However, going out for 5 or 10 people becomes surprisingly complex. Where should you go? What cuisine to eat? Should you take the cab or the train? Should you meet on a weekday or a weekend?
The more people we have, the more personalities and interests emerge in a group, making it relatively difficult to satisfy everyone. It begs the question: How can we then ensure to put the right pieces together to achieve a common goal?
“Project Aristotle”, led by Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics Division, set out to crack this code. While it seems obvious that the team’s success depends on the kind of people, what they found was nothing short of astonishing — people’s personalities and backgrounds didn’t make much difference.
The Key Features of “Enhanced Teams”
Google is a big, big company. Everything you need to study about workplace teams can be easily done within. So after years of collecting and studying data and interviews from more than 180 teams, they found that the individual personalities are not so relevant.
Most of us think that certain kinds of people gel with certain others. A lot of attention is paid to this detail while hiring. But as it turns out, there are other things more important.
“We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter,” Dubey said in an interview with The New York Times.
The researchers found what really mattered was less about who is on the team and more about how the team worked together. In order of importance, these are the key features of enhanced teams:
It refers to a person’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk. If you feel free to take risks and knowing that you’ll not be penalized if the risk turns out bad, you’re a great team. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.
In a good team, people complete their work on time and deliver the highest quality. This way, you can depend on your teammates and trust them to get work done. It is stressful to constantly second guess if the other person will do their job right. Good teams avoid that.
Structure and Clarity
To have clarity within the team, each person needs to know what they’re expected of, how to fulfill those expectations and the consequences of their performance. If these are clearly defined, everyone is crystal clear on what they need to do to make the team succeed.
Meaning is crucial for not only well-being but for sustenance. It’s no surprise that people need to find meaning in what they do for the team to function well. When the lack of meaning dawns upon a person, his performance and output decline rapidly.
Meaning can vary from person to person — financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, or self-expression for each individual.
No one wants to feel like their work is useless and that if they were to leave tomorrow, no one would care. Having people believe that their work makes an impact is crucial for teams. ‘Impact’ is quite subjective. But as long as people in a team recognize the impact of their work, they’ll be sufficiently motivated.
While the findings of Google make sense, what still attracts skepticism from numerous researchers and studies is the importance of people’s personalities in the process.
The fact the Google’s reports discount the importance of individual personalities and attitudes is worrisome.
Personality heavily affects the role of an individual within a team, argue Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at Columbia University, and psychologist Dave Winsborough, former VP at Hogan Assessment Systems.
“Too often, organizations focus merely on the functional role and hope that good team performance somehow follows,” they wrote in an article. “This is why even the most expensive professional sports teams often fail to perform according to the individual talents of each player: There is no psychological synergy. A more effective approach focuses as much on people’s personalities as on their skills.”
As an alternative, a study conducted at Hogan X gives another view. It says that poor teams consist of people with only “pragmatic” people and have no relationship-building traits.
This is to say that we need both left and right-brained people within the team.
Everyone has a dominant side of the brain which in turn determines their personality and behavior. Right-brained people are more creative, intuitive, and free-thinking. Left-brained people are more logical, analytics, and pragmatic. They prefer thinking in numbers and words, unlike the right-brained ones who think in visuals.
Now, the question worth asking is — Why is pragmatism rarely desired?
The thing is, unbalanced pragmatism leads to linear thinking and only offers basic technical skills. However, as you grow into your role, the need for EQ and other left-brained skills becomes increasingly apparent.
While your left-brained skills may get you hired, your right-brained skills will help you advance. And the mix of the two within a team determines how it will perform.
You can’t bring together a bunch of people and call it a team just because they work together. Many factors determine if a group of people are a team and if they’re a good one.
While dynamics like psychological safety and impact also matter, the personalities of people may be too important to discount them from the mix.
The good news is that our personalities are not fixed and can be developed to include more desirable traits. This means right-brained people can work on strategic thinking, and coming up with practical solutions to problems. On the other hand, left-brained people can try to be more creative in learning, be okay with ambiguity, and think outside the box.
Whether Google found the secret to the dream team or not, I leave for your judgment. But meanwhile, we all can work on ourselves to be the change we want to see in the team and the organization.