‘‘Just having data that proves to people that these things are worth paying attention to sometimes is the most important step in getting them to actually pay attention,’’ - Julia Rozovsky
This article on Google's quest to find out what makes teams successful is not so much about a new insight on the inner workings of teams. It is more about how data, diagrams and graphs can help convince rational business managers of the importance of empathy and emotions. Research on the inner working of teams by psychologists has already shown that teams that can create a safe environment where team members can share feelings and anxieties are more successful than teams that are all about performance and getting the job done. Successful teams establish rules of behavior (norms) based on two core principles: equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking and an high average social sensitivity. In those cases the overall intelligence (capability of getting the job done) of the team is actual higher than the intelligence of the individual team-members. It doesn't matter as much who is in the team, it matters how they get along in the team.
Conventional wisdom in business management tend not to take this into account. When teams are created or put in action there is more likely more attention on individual skill and expertise related to the team-assignment than on team culture and behavior. Within a team there might be a struggle over leadership, over individual incentives instead of team rewards or over each understanding of the team goals. Teams that find a way to come to some kind of agreement, following the old idea of 'forming, storming, norming, performing", will get better. Teams though that stay in the storming phase will not succeed.
The conventional wisdom on what makes a team successful was at first what the management of Google believed. Google puts lots of effort in research and analysis and the HR department started to investigate successful formation of teams. Google is a large company and very data-driven and this gives the researchers the resources to analyse all kinds of different teams. Their findings were in line with what the psychologists already had found but now they had the data and the diagrams to back it up. This was instrumental in making Google management see what really matters when putting a team together. And it gave management a better direction on how to effectively improve the performance of a team.
As they struggled to figure out what made a team successful, Rozovsky and her colleagues kept coming across research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on what are known as ''group norms.'' Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather: One team may come to a consensus that avoiding disagreement is more valuable than debate; another team might develop a culture that encourages vigorous arguments and spurns groupthink.
Original Title: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team
External source: New York Times
Author: Charles Duhigg
Publication date: 02/25/2016