Many of my clients are extremely interested in whatever Google is doing in the realm of HR.  This was especially true when I was in Asia.  Everyone there wanted to emulate the free food, open office plans, and other legendary employee perks of the technology giant.  What was typically ignored is Google’s relentless use of research and data to determine how to engineer a successful organization.

Google invests heavily in people analytics (see Work Rules by Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations).  Looking closely at Google’s People Operations shows that all aspects of People Operations are closely studied to optimize organizational effectiveness.  From hiring to compensation to training to diversity and throughout the employee life-cycle, Google has tremendous amounts of data on employees and closely studies the data to make people decisions.

Assembling and managing project teams is no different.  Google launched a project in 2012 to understand why some project teams were more successful than others.  Named “Project Aristotle,” the effort initially focused on numerous aspects of the individuals within the teams – from personality to demographics to values and behaviors.  After many years of work on the topic, Google found that the team norms (or climate) was the most important factor for optimal performance.  Based on a New York Times article (linked below), Google found that psychological safety, and its associated behaviors, was critical for team success.  Teams that experience psychological safety have more open conversations, feel like they can depend on each other, and have clearer shared goals.

Ironically, Google discovered something very different from what they were expecting to find. Although they started looking at what aspects of individuals created a perfect team, they found that the individuals have very little to do with overall team performance (beyond baseline competence).  Moreover, they found that the team climate was most important to project success.  These findings are extremely encouraging because team climate is created each time a new team forms and the team leader can have a great deal of influence on climate.  Specifically, if aware of the need, a leader can positively affect the direction and influence the performance of a team by creating a safe and productive climate at the very beginning of a project.

Another thing that I, personally, find interesting and helpful is that many of the same things that drive innovation in teams align with Google’s findings.  To learn more about how to create a climate for innovation and performance, read our white paper Creating a Climate for InnovationContact us or comment to discuss how to improve team performance within your organization.

What Google Learned in Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

White Paper: Creating a Climate for Innovation