What makes an effective team?

Google has always been a data-driven company, not only for its businesses but also for nearly every aspect of its employees’ professional lives.

A few years ago, the project Aristotle was started to assess what it takes to build the perfect team. A dedicated work group of researchers measured many Google’s teams effectiveness using a combination of different qualitative evaluations and quantitative metrics, with the goal of finding the comprehensive definition of team effectiveness.

You can read the story in this New York Times article, here are the results of the project.

A quick summary

The researchers found soon that what really mattered was NOT WHO is on the team, BUT HOW the team worked together. Which makes sense: teams are highly interdependent – team members need one another to get work done.

The research group concluded that understanding and influencing group norms (what is normally referred as “team’s culture”) were the keys to improving Google’s teams.

Norms are defined by psychologists and sociologists as the traditions, behavioural standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather.

For example, researchers noticed that – in the good teams – members spoke in roughly the same proportion: “as long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well.”

Also, the good teams were skilled in empathy, intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.

Within psychology, researchers refer to traits like those as psychological safety:

a sense of confidence that the team is safe and will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.

Psychological safety is the most important characteristic for an effective team.
In order of importance, this is the full list, according to the project Aristotle results:

  1. Psychological safety:  Teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members.
  2. Dependability: Team members reliably complete quality work on time (vs the opposite – evading responsibilities).
  3. Structure and clarity: Everyone understanding what is expected in terms of job, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness.
  4. Meaning: Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. Can be financial security or self-expression, for example.
  5. Impact: The subjective judgement that your work is making a difference, is important for teams. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organisation’s goals.


These could seem obvious results, that good managers have always known but – beyond just communicating the study results – the Google research team offers tips for improving , such as a survey focused on the five effectiveness pillars for teams to take.

Questions in the survey are, for example:

  • Psychological safety – “If I make a mistake on our team, it is not held against me.”
  • Dependability – “When my teammates say they’ll do something, they follow through with it.”
  • Structure and Clarity – “Our team has an effective decision-making process.”
  • Meaning – “The work I do for our team is meaningful to me.”
  • Impact – “I understand how our team’s work contributes to the organisation’s goals.”

In general, the re:work site from Google is an admirable and helpful effort to share their insights in making the knowledge work better, using data.
Worth a visit.

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