How to build the best team

2016-04-12

How do you build the best, most creative team in the company? The first thought is to gather the smartest employees in one and the same room. But it's not quite as simple as that, an exciting research report from Google shows.

When Julia Rozovsky was studying at the Yale School of Management, she began to wonder why certain study groups made her feel good, and got the best out of her, while others mostly made her uneasy.

"It was very often because there was a battle for the leadership role. The loud-mouthed ones had their way while the more thoughtful students sat in silence and didn't have the confidence to make their opinions known. The atmosphere was just stifling, which led to an imbalance in the group dynamics. Smart ideas don't develop in such a climate," says Rozovsky.

Nowadays, most things in our workplaces are measurable, but it's a mistake to focus solely on individual performance; it's better to study how we operate together. Since the beginning of the 2000s, group work has increased by over 50 per cent in white collar companies, and this is a continuing development.

Four years ago, Google launched a secret project under the code name Aristotle, with the task of discovering the best possible conditions for building successful teams. Rozovsky was headhunted to lead the work.

Everything was investigated and measured, from lunch habits and shared hobbies to what the gender balance in a group means for the result.

"The remarkable thing was that we couldn't see any pattern at all. After all, Google lives by finding causal connections, but however hard we tried, we were none the wiser," Rozovsky says.

It was only when we started to look into the unwritten, invisible rules that apply in a group that we made a breakthrough." They found that all successful groups had two things in common:

  1. Everyone speaks roughly as much as everyone else, and the leadership is completely democratic. Who's in charge of the group depends not on what's written on their business card, but by what the task in hand is.
  2. There is a great empathetic and social skill which means that the group immediately realises if someone feels excluded.

Rozovsky and her team found that teams which live according to these informal rules are much more successful than others, employees stay behind after meetings, discuss ideas, joke and gossip with each other, and show a much stronger motivation for their task than other groups which, on paper, perhaps are a stronger unit.

"What we learned from Aristotle, above all, was how important it is for people to feel psychologically secure in their workplace. You shouldn't need to adopt a different role just because you're at work. This is what we try to teach our employees, and this is what also brings results."