5 norms to get the best out of your team: Learnings from Google’s Aristotle Project

As unbelievable as it may seem, Google has discovered the secrets to get the best out of your team #MondayMorningWakeUpCall


Teamwork is essential… it allows you to blame someone else 🙂

Four years ago (2012) Google launched a project called Project Aristotle to find the answer to one of corporate world’s biggest existential questions – How to build a team which has perfect dynamics to ensure maximum productivity?

Google being Google, they gathered some of the company’s best statisticians, organizational psychologists, sociologists, engineers and researchers (since they didn’t have access to Deep Thought).  What they discovered, after a Google amount of research, was that the answer definitely wasn’t 42. What they also discovered was that it was almost impossible to find patterns, or any evidence that the composition of a team made any difference or what made a team successful.

What they did discover was that understanding and improving group norms were the keys to improving teams. (Aside: Norms are traditions, behavioural standards and unwritten rules that govern how people function when they work together or collaborating gather)

The one norm to rule all norms: Create psychological safety

Teams need psychological safety. It is the one norm, more than anything else, critical to making a team work.

Harvard Business professor Amy Edmundson defines psychological safety as an environment that “Gives a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up. It describes a climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves”

To create psychological safety, team leaders need to model the right behavior. Google’s checklist for that is –

  1. Leaders should not interrupt teammates during conversations because that will establish an interrupting norm.
  2. They should demonstrate they are listening by summarizing what people say after they said it.
  3. They should admit what they don’t know.
  4. They shouldn’t end a meeting until all team members have spoken at least once.
  5. They should encourage people who are upset to express their frustrations, and encourage teammates to respond in non-judgemental ways.
  6. They should call out intergroup conflicts and resolve them through open discussion.

Bonus material: 4 more norms that come a close second are:

  1. Teams need to believe that their work is important
  2. Teams need to believe that their work is personally meaningful
  3. Teams need clear goals and defined roles
  4. Team members need to know that they can depend on one another

Bonus bonus material: 5 myths discovered from Google’s Project Aristotle

  1. “We need superstars” (Truth: You can take a team of average performers, and if you teach them to interact the right way, they’ll do things no superstar could ever accomplish)
  2. Sales teams should be run differently than engineering teams
  3. Best teams need to achieve consensus around everything
  4. High performing teams need a high volume of work to stay engaged
  5. Teams need to be physically located together

For the more devil hunters, details of the research and methodology are here.

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