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What Aristotle Taught Google About High-performing Teams

  • Publish Date: Posted 2 months ago

Communication is key to success.

It is a phrase often said but one that needs perspective to gain value from. In a recent workshop with an HSEQ team who had all completed a RoTI insight assessment, it became clear that effective communication is the priority for their remote team to work more successfully together. Jordan Harlow, the new Occupational Psychology Consultant at Shirley Parsons, spoke about Project Aristotle, an internal review by Google in 2012, which outlined 5 main factors for successful communication. Jordan summarises here what project Aristotle taught Google and how this can be used by every HSEQ team looking to improve performance.

Jordan explains:

Project Aristotle was an important internal review by Google in 2012 exploring why some of their “A teams” often were outperformed by their “B teams”. At first they looked into the standard metrics popular at the time, strong management, team structure, personal interests, skill level and how remote the team members were. However they found no correlation in these measures. As the review continued they discovered a surprising set of valid correlations across all their teams. Communication and team synergy went beyond just skill set and knowledge but also drive, clear communication, and social synergy which cemented themselves in the form of group norms. Their results can be broken down into 5 main factors; Psychological Safety, Dependability, Structure and Clarity, Meaning, and Impact.

These factors were found to be the most important measures present in their highest performing teams. In practice these insights give important food for thought to the development of teams and how to maintain employee engagement.

1. Psychological Safety

The first key element to facilitate communication is knowing that you can safely voice your opinions. This psychological safety can be deepened through the knowledge of team members on a personal level.

Workshops such as those undertaken in RoTI projects focus on facilitating knowledge of oneself and one’s team to assist in creating and supporting a culture of psychological safety in a team. Share details with your co-workers to seek information, and leaders should facilitate and seek healthy conversation. A strong foundation of safety in communication makes the other 4 factors much easier to meet and maintain. Thus, performance in the team setting increases and engagement with the team and corporate culture will rise to match.

2&3. Dependability & Structure and Clarity

The trust that your team and your leader will follow through with goals (dependability) is intrinsically tied to structure and clarity. By understanding your role and the roles of your teammates, you can clearly understand your purpose in the overall outcomes of your team and that of the organisation. By nurturing this understanding, trust will form between team members as goals are met and maintained (and if goals are not met, this will damage the integrity of the team). If goals are not met, ask how the team can do better or supplement each other in order to improve their performance. By sparking discourse and engaging employees, you will find them more engaged even in the face of perceived failure. Every failure is a chance for growth, and every success is a moment of reflection on how to set further improvement into practice. Goal setting, goal tracking and explaining the meaning behind their work, in tandem with the psychological safety of communicating, are crucial to maintaining this factor.

4. Meaning

This then evolves into the meaning factor of project Aristotle, compounding the prior sections. Why do your employees do what they do? It’s been found that the obvious extrinsic motivation of payment, while relevant, is not the leading factor of employee drive. Intrinsic motivation, such as aspiration alignment, emotional engagement in the team and company, pride in accomplishment and safety in corporate culture, are all important measures that drive this meaning factor in an employee. The ways to improve on this are similar to the previous steps and call back to the psychological safety foundation of this model; communication. When forming a team, get to know them on a personal level to see their fit beyond just the scope of their on-paper skills and align their career goals with the goals of your project. In teams that have already formed, go above and beyond in understanding what internally drives your employees and teammates to get a deeper understanding of why they do what they do.

5. Impact

The final factor in project Aristotle is impact, the culmination of all prior factors. The final impact on your team and the employee themselves is founded on how the prior factors are executed. According to Google, a team built with a strong foundation of psychological safety, clearly described goals and expectations with a strong but positive employee-focused culture will perform better regardless of skill set or qualification. In practice, this starts with leadership; consciousness is an important trait to a modern leader. Being able to account for the person their employees are, beyond their skill set, allows for the growth and outcomes seen in high performance teams.

In practice, there are many ways to foster this; modern recruiting and team consulting have embraced psychological studies over the years to optimise their impact. The use of psychometrics can act as a good footnote to spur conversation about a colleague or new recruit, but the pitfalls of this lie in ignoring the human element. Tracing back to the foundation of psychological safety, it is important to use psychometrics as a platform to understand the client rather than at its face value.

RoTI can support

The RoTI program takes an employee/recruit’s profile and expands on it using their aspirations and thoughts, creating a rich learning environment. Not just for a leader or company but even for the employee, allowing social understanding to start in the core of the individual. This extends further into the realm of workshops, by integrating more robust information into a workshop it allows for the impact to be directly related to the individual. Delivering an experience that reaches the team's core, rather than simply telling a group how to behave in a general sense, may end up lost on an individual.

Summary

Project Aristotle offers insight to the teams of one of the most successful tech companies on earth; while the findings were insightful, like all research, it must be taken in the context of other research around its findings. These insights, when combined with modern research, give us a view on how to better create and maintain high performing, happier teams. Focusing on the human element is an important point when it comes to getting the best out of the people we hire and train. Communication is the key to success, and through communication, we can delve into a deeper understanding of those around us.

For further information, please contact Jordan Harlow at jordan.harlow@shirleyparsons.com