After eceiving faltering results from different teams, Google realized that who was on the team mattered less than how the team worked together.
Rather than focus on one person’s career success, the winning teams obsessed more over assembling players who wanted to make history together. We’ve all heard inspiring stories about how scrappy underdog athletes with a passion for interdependence have beaten self-absorbed all-star teams during championships. But could that also be true for iconic companies like Google, with arguably one the most rigorous screening processes in the world? Prasad Setty, VP People Analytics, studied 180 Google teams across the world using over 35 statistical models and 200 interviews. Setty presented his findings at a conference I hosted in San Francisco, the 2016 Goal Summit created by BetterWorks, a world-leading goal science software company.
There are three critical differences that ignited top performers:
- Impact vs. Meaning. If you want to spark engagement for your team projects, the key is to make it obvious how the goal really matters in terms of external impact. When you don’t explain why an initiative has impact, the team sees right through it and assumes it’s just a pet project that benefits the boss’ career. That too often results in suboptimal performance from even the best people.
Why Meaning Matters: As an individual, it’s one thing to know you’re a part of a high-impact project, it’s another to feel that the task you’re doing is something you personally love to do. The need for this internal validation, in addition to the external impact, means that the leader must not only be clear about the outcome, but also understand the motivations of each team member.For example, an engineer who had contributed successfully to a project knew it was an important project for the company, but after many years of high engagement, she was no longer finding that endeavor exciting from a personal standpoint. She needed to find a new role on the team or she needed to find a new team on a project that feeds her personal motivation. For a great team, you need to balance both the internal and external validation.
Takeaway for the Leader: Just because it’s clear to you that a project is essential, don’t assume that it is obvious why it should be valued by the individuals who make it happen in terms of external impact and internal meaning.
- Clarity vs. Dependability. Many managers spend time establishing clarity around roles, authority and structure, particularly at the beginning of a project when it really counts. People will do just what’s assigned; no more, no less, and innovation and enthusiasm decline. The team will not be well positioned for inevitable change, and it might buckle under pressure.
The question for the leader is, Does this structure provide clarity for the team?
On the other hand, dependability refers to how the team members rely on each other to deliver quality work. When a team can count on a high level of interdependence, then it needs less guidance from the boss. In fact, if a leader continues to pile on more structure, it will eventually backfire and can build resentment by the team. Too much input from the leader can steal the team’s feeling of ownership. After launching them with clarity at the beginning, the more autonomy you can afford to give your people, the more likely they will get things done well with high energy because it has more meaning to them.
Takeaway for the Leader: What do you want to pivot on as a leader of your team?. Do they need more structure, or do you want to shift to a culture of greater inter-dependability?
- Psychological Safety. Think about how it feels when you are on a team where everyone trusts each other–where you could share bad news and speak freely and creatively without embarrassment or retribution. Bosses routinely ask for input, and then unwittingly punish their team members for doing so. It’s easy to shoot the messenger without considering the greater implications. Keeping quiet may be great for self-preservation, but you’re expending energy solving the wrong problem from the organization’s perspective, and it’s a huge distraction from the main goal. When you’re playing defense, you’re sacrificing opportunities to learn to serve customers better or outmaneuver competitors. Google’s sales teams that self-reported low ratings in psychological safety in this survey underperformed their revenue goals by 19%, and those with high ratings exceeded their revenue targets by the same margin.
How do you give your team psychological safety? Astro Teller, who runs X, the Alphabet lab tasked with “moonshot” projects at Google, needed a strategy to reassure all-star executives that it was okay to embrace nearly impossible odds. “Usually you never think like that when teams are assembled, It’s unusual to think in terms of how everything could break. The strategy has three critical benefits: It increased the quality of the product, reduced errors and boosted morale because the group fleshed out all the fears and actually took action to address those concerns in advance.
But the most powerful result was the team bonding early in the process at a point where it could have torn itself apart. Rather than engage in political infighting or endless debates pitting egos against each other, they instead embraced a wide range of painful issues as a team rather than waiting for them to become problems. That builds respect and trust on the team.
They were more willing to admit mistakes and more open to new approaches to problem solving. This is psychological safety at scale. When you make it safe for a high-powered group to face the brutal truth early in a learning process–as a means to win a place in history together rather than individual fame–that’s a game-changer for the team and your business.