All of life is pretty much teamwork.
Discussions with your family to plan your next vacation, the perfect shopping spree with your friends, a project you aced at your job, or even that one time you worked really hard to convince yourself to do that one thing that was really important and really scary for you.
If you think back to those situations where you successfully collaborated with others to achieve something, you may notice that you were all in sync, in one way or another. Maybe you all agreed that the outcome was more important than your individual differences, or you recognized that each of you could bring something unique to the table. Maybe you were clear on the roles and responsibilities from the get-go or made sure to accommodate everybody’s needs.
This is what Google researchers focused on in a study spanning seven years — the dynamics that make it possible for groups of people to work together, and what helps them make the most out of it, to foster peak performance from each individual member.
7 years, 180 teams and 115 projects later, this is what they found:
The researchers found that what really mattered was less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together. In order of importance:
- Psychological safety: Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. 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.
- Dependability: On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time (vs the opposite – shirking responsibilities).
- Structure and clarity: An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness. Goals can be set at the individual or group level, and must be specific, challenging, and attainable. Google often uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help set and communicate short and long term goals.
- Meaning: Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. The meaning of work is personal and can vary: financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, or self-expression for each individual, for example.
- Impact: The results of one’s work, the subjective judgement that your work is making a difference, is important for teams. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organization’s goals can help reveal impact.
Knowing that the strength of a team is not dependent on its individual members but rather the group culture adopted by the whole should make working with others more straightforward, no matter what our personal differences and/ or preferences might be.