June 23 2020 0Comment


By Jason Copeland, M.A.

Data Visualization Consultant, Transformation Systems, Inc.

Google is on a constant search for extraordinary strategies and products to drive user and advertiser value.  Google is also enlightened enough to realize their people are the key to success, so leaders are unrelentingly curious about what enables their most effective teams to perform—and they invest big in what they discover.


While conducting a study called Project Aristotle*, Google’s researchers expected to find that their best teams exhibited similar team size, functional composition, demographics, and personality factors. They were wrong! Turns out, who makes up their teams matters less than how those teams work together. Google discovered that across many teams with many types of membership, team culture and behaviors are more explanatory. They found five specific factors impacting team performance, in order of importance:


  1. Psychological Safety – Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.
  2. Dependability – Team members keep their agreements, get things done on time, and know they can count on one another.
  3. Structure and Clarity – Team members have clear roles, plans, and goals.
  4. Meaning – Work is personally meaningful to team members.
  5. Impact – Team members think that their work matters and creates change.

But how do these kinds of dynamics form? Can they be cultivated purposefully? Clearly, it’s not solely company culture because inside Google, teams experienced various levels of these characteristics. Instead, it is team leaders who make the difference. Team leaders who neglect these dynamics do so at their peril; team leads who attend to them with intention enable their teams to produce results. How and why do they make the time?


As a team leader, you can probably think of several methods for increasing any one of these five characteristics within your team. Examples may include conducting one-on-one meetings with team members, consistently asking for input from team members, acknowledging their contributions, and modeling curiosity. The problem is that these behaviors take time. Time that is already stretched thin trying to get the work done. Attending to these self-awareness and relationship dynamics may feel inefficient and off-task. But lots of research, both inside and outside of Google, suggests doing these types of things can have a huge impact on your team’s effectiveness.


At TSI, we sometimes use Dr. Harold Kurstedt’s ABC model (shown below) to describe how people generally use their time. The three slices of the pie are: A-Administer the business (i.e. day-to-day work); B-Build the business (i.e. organizational development); and C-Cater to crises (i.e. dealing with unexpected “emergencies”). When teaching us the model, Dr. Kurstedt explained that the more of B you can wedge into the organization by doing things like strategic planning, metric development, data mining, process improvement—the less time in the long run you will find yourself catering to crises “C” and the more productive your “A” time will become. A well-designed and implemented wedge of “B” can streamline and improve “A” while anticipating and avoiding “C.” [Caution: a wedge of “B” done badly or without heart will always be driven out by entrenched “A” and ever-present “C”!]

The same model applies for teams. Instead of building the business, “B” is time spent building the team, especially in the five areas of Psychological Safety, Dependability, Structure/Clarity, Meaning, and Impact. The evidence is overwhelming. Google believes and invests in this wedge of “B.” You can too. All it takes is a little bit of time being “inefficient,” fostering five dynamics that unleash a more powerful team.