A year-old article from New York Times is circulating on LinkedIn at the moment. And for good reasons. It’s called “What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team”.

The article is about research made by Google. Always being the data-driven company, Google decided to find out why some of their teams performed better than others. This is something that ought to interest everyone. In our complex world, few projects or functions are driven by a single individual.

To make a long story short (you should read the article in NY Times), Google learned that it was not about having the most intelligent, extrovert, introvert, young, old, experienced, gender-mixed – you can expand the list – people in the team. It wasn’t even about whether the team met in private or celebrated their victories.

A team performed great when people respected one another, when all team-members could feel safe in expressing ideas, and was listened to. It was all about feeling safe in the team. You may recognize the magic feeling when ideas are building on top op other’s ideas, and you cannot really say who got which idea. It only happens in what I will call the “Respectful Team”. Similarly we also must be able to question what is often regarded as facts, but quite often is assumptions. Anyone should be allowed to say “are we sure that this is how it works?” – no matter who described this customer behavior (or whatever we are discussing).

There are several lessons here:

  • Google is a huge company. They can afford to run big studies that most other companies cannot. In the end however, they end up with a result that doesn’t surprise most good team-leaders. So even though we are not Google, we still have a chance!
  • Some of us might have suspected the result, but nevertheless it is interesting that the respectful team comes out as a clear no 1.
  • In the world of today where everybody is doing their best to be data-driven, we use KPI’s – Key Performance Indicators. And what do we measure? Well some actually do measure teams, but many are measuring individual performance. And what happens if we get people to fight to get the best KPI? – we kill the respectful teams. So if we are told by top-management to measure individual KPI’s, let’s make sure that one thing we do measure is “respectful towards team-members”.

The article in NY Times sends a great message. Still I am left with one question: “How did Google rate the teams?”

Those of us that have experienced many projects, know that the success of a project is not just a question of the work done by a team, but also the original requirement spec, what happened in the world – and in the company – during the project and many other things. I would like to read an article about Google’s rating system.

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