What exactly defines a team?
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Do members of your team seem to be at odds with each other? Maybe it's time to examine what exactly makes a team.
How can an organization best define its teams, while keeping its employees engaged and productive? A recent New York Times article explored that very subject by taking a look at how tech giant Google approached teamwork.
"The company’s top executives long believed that building the best teams meant combining the best people," according to the article. "In 2012, the company embarked on an initiative — code-named Project Aristotle — to study hundreds of Google's teams and figure out why some stumbled while others soared."
What teams are made of
The researchers involved in Project Aristotle began by looking at various data spanning a half-century of what teams are made of. No matter how they reviewed this data, they could not up with any real patterns "or any evidence that the composition of a team made any difference."
Google seemed to be at a standstill. Nothing seemed to matter — the skill set, education, personalities types, or even stronger or weaker leaders.
Another idea came into play: to focus on what psychologists and sociologists study. Thus, the study came across what are called "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," the article stated.
"Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently — but when they gather, the group's norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team."
The Project Aristotle researchers reviewed more than 100 groups within Google, and they soon discovered that both understanding and influencing group norms were the most effective path to improving Google teams.
The better approach
If you had a choice between Team A (with a more serious-minded approach) versus Team B (who were more free flowing in thought), you probably would pick Team B.
"Team A may be filled with smart people, all optimized for peak individual efficiency. But the group's norms discourage equal speaking; there are few exchanges of the kind of personal information that lets teammates pick up on what people are feeling or leaving unsaid," according to the article.
"In contrast, on Team B, people may speak over one another, go on tangents and socialize instead of remaining focused on the agenda. The team may seem inefficient to a casual observer. But all the team members speak as much as they need to. They are sensitive to one another's moods and share personal stories and emotions. While Team B might not contain as many individual stars, the sum will be greater than its parts."
The study found that "a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves."
Teams within an organization
Project Aristotle researchers found that "psychological safety pointed to particular norms that are vital to success. There were other behaviors that seemed important as well — like making sure teams had clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google's data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work."
A team must be able to feel safe, be free to express themselves without judgment, and not put on — as the article states — "a work face" at the office. The collaboration, the opportunity to communicate and the ability to have openness are the keys to building teams within an organization. Rather than focusing on efficiencies, the human side needs to be addressed. After all, it is humans who make up teams.
The article reminds us, "In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs."
Finally, the article emphasizes, "Project Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimize everything, it's sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can't really be optimized."
The building of trust is what ultimately can make or break a team or even an organization.
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