Building effective teams the Google way

by | Jan 22, 2020 | Effective Teams, Innovation, Strategy

We often work with clients who are trying to improve the effectiveness of their teams. Google (Rozovsky, 2015) studied effective teams and came up with the top five characteristics:

  1. Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
  3. Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters? (para. 5)

More information can be found here.

Before we share this list with a client team, we ask them to share what they think are characteristics of effective teams. We have never had a team come up with “psychological safety.” In many organizations, it is more advantageous to play it safe than to take risks. How can we foster a sense of psychological safety within our organizations?

We encourage organizations to intentionally reward and encourage risk. Google (Rozovsky, 2015) suggests that we can improve psychological safety by having team members share a risk they have taken at the beginning of each meeting. This action prompts us to think about and discuss risk.

Divergent and convergent thinking are foundations of creativity. With divergent thinking, we strive to generate as many ideas as possible before we evaluate them. A feeling of psychological safety should help team members feel comfortable to generate more ideas with each other.

In John Doerr’s book Measure What Matters, he discusses the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) system utilized by Google and many other successful organizations. Doerr describes OKRs as “a collaborative goal setting protocol for companies, teams, and individuals” (p. 6). Objectives are “what” is to be accomplished and should be “significant, concrete, action oriented, and (ideally) inspirational” (p. 7). Key Results describe “how” the Objective will be met. “Effective KRs are specific and time-bound, aggressive, yet realistic. Most of all, they are measurable and verifiable” (p. 7).

According to Doerr, OKRs help organizations achieve the following “superpowers”:

  1. Superpower #1: Focus and commit to priorities
  2. Superpower #2: Align and connect for teamwork
  3. Superpower #3: Track for accountability
  4. Superpower #4: Stretch for amazing

Organizations benefit from OKRs by clearly communicating priorities, aligning the efforts of teams and individuals to achieve the objectives, setting a system for tracking progress, and inspiring teams and individuals to strive for audacious goals.  

  1. How can your organization utilize Google’s effective teams research to achieve more?
  2. Does your organization have a system like the OKRs to clearly communicate priorities, align efforts, track progress, and inspire teams and individuals to achieve more?