Google is a massive company and has had tremendous success. So what's the secret to growing a company like Google? The people operations team (HR) set off on a two-year quest to research what made successful teams. They guessed it would be something to do with a supportive team composition with complimentary skillsets and experience. What they found instead was something much simpler than they expected.
Google loves data and in order to research what makes a successful team, they spent two years interviewing 200+ Google staff members from all sorts of different teams. Development, sales, finance, marketing, everyone they could get their hands on. They cataloged the attributes of the teams and compared them against various performance metrics. These were the top 5 attributes to the teams that had the highest performance and most engaged team members.
- Psychological safety: Confidence to speak and act without feeling insecure or being embarrassed.
- Dependability: Individuals can count on each other to deliver high-quality work on time.
- Structure & clarity: Team has clear goals and plans to execute.
- Meaning of work: Feeling their work has personal meaning to them.
- Impact of work: Feeling their work makes a contribution.
One of my all-time favorite business books, is Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. One of the central themes of the book is how teams are an extension of tribal culture and there is a deep-rooted need for safety in groups. This is demonstrated really well by close bonds formed between military units and first responders. Most of us are lucky, in that if our team members fail us we won't die. Military and first responders lives often depend on the person standing next to them. In the book, Sinek speaks to how a team with a low level of trust will often turn on each as they sense a threat from each other. A strong team will bond together and recognize the external threat. Everyone can recognize the truth in this. We've all been a part of teams that were bogged down in infighting and people sniping at each other. The amount of distraction and negativity this creates is a huge boat anchor on productivity and morale. Naturally, teams that don't trust each other perform poorly compared to teams with high trust.
Dependability feels like an extension of trust to me. If team members feel that their peers will deliver their work on time, it has a tangible impact on trust. It also serves as peer motivation for the rest of the team to also deliver high-quality work on time. Of course, the inverse is true as well. When a team member doesn't deliver their work, the rest of the team gets frustrated and sometimes feels less inclined to do their work as well. This is why flagging and managing underperforming team members is critical. You can't let them spoil the work product of the rest of the team. Provided the team sees that a manager or even other peers are applying pressure to that person to correct their accountability, that can be enough to keep the team performance from suffering overall.
Structure & Clarity
This is one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of business planning. In most cases there is no strategic plan for the company. If something does exist it's often in the owners head. The effectiveness of leadership has a strong correlation to being able to communicate the goals of the organization. It's not enough to say, "We want to make lots of money and provide great service." I encourage businesses to write down strategic plans in a simple format that makes it easy to communicate. This is often done in the form of a one-page-plan. There are several ways to do this Gazelles, Traction, A3 (lean method). You don't need a 13 page report on your strategy. It will only make it more difficult to communicate. A simple one pager that outlines the goals of the organization is drastically easier to explain to someone else.
Once you have the clarity of the plan with target goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). It becomes easier to measure what is needed from staff. The clarity of the core responsibilities of the role make it much easier for management and staff to agree on what productive work look like. It shifts the conversation from, "You're not doing well at your job." Which is subjective and feels like a personal attack to, "You closed 4 tickets this week. Everyone else on your team hit 15. So what happened?" Don't fear measuring your staff performance. Provided your KPIs are fair, people will love the visibility. People that resist metrics are usually under performers.
I will roll these two together since I feel they are strongly related and probably the toughest ones to get in place. Unless you work for an organization that is saving whales or curing cancer. It can be tough to conceptualize the impact you have in your job. This is why is critical for leadership to help frame the impact of people's work. In a knowledge based job like technology it's tough for people to point to a job well done. Hopefully you have some metrics to measure your success, but it's not like you can point to a house or a bridge and say, "I built that."
Some simple things you can do are ensuring staff have a sense of direction in their career. As a part of their development they need to be thinking about their future. Do they want to grow in to a management position? Do they want to be the cloud or security expert in the group? Do they want to complete their CCNA or MCSE? Whatever their goals, the goals need to be kept alive by the team member and actively supported by management.
Celebrating success with the team is also important for a group sense of accomplishment. When you win a new client do you ring a gong in the office, or have everyone participate in a group cheer? When you complete a large project or new client on-boarding, do you order in a nice lunch (not just pizza) or a cake to mark the occasion? Keep your team success visible and celebrate at every opportunity. It will be really helpful to the teams morale and sense of accomplishment.
If you'd like to learn a bit more abut creating psychological safety you can watch this TEDx talk from Amy Edmondson below.