The Sweet Spot of Great Teams

Google’s Latest Leadership Quest Uncovered – Team Norms Help the Most.

Google turns 20 this year, and over the past two decades, they’ve solidified their reputation as a company that studies leadership with the same rigor that they study website hits. As such, 3D Leadership Group likes to stay on top of Google’s leadership quests, as they like to call them.

Since 2006, Google has committed to studying the “soft stuff” of leadership and has recruited several PhDs with deep research experience to help them crunch the numbers. In 2011, they published a seminal piece in The New York Times: Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss, better known as Project Oxygen. In 2016, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg authored a second New York Times piece: What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, better known as Project Aristotle.

team“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” is one of Aristotle’s best-known quotes. What might his quote have to do with Google’s quest to build the perfect team? Quite a bit, it turns out. Most teams are average; great teams intentionally practice habits and norms.

After crunching 50 years of academic research on teams and studying 180 of its own, Google unearthed interesting findings that are also an integral part of 3D Leadership Group’s work with teams. Google found that it doesn’t matter too much who is on the team, and it doesn’t matter what the team is working on. What does matter is how the team members treat one another, also known as the team’s behavioral norms.

Norms reflect a culture that influences behavior and meets human emotional needs. So Project Aristotle’s research team began to look for “group or team norms” in the best performing teams. They created a list of recurring norms, and one norm seems to stand out: creating psychological safety in teams. This is the sense that you will not be embarrassed, rejected or punished for speaking up and taking risks within the team.

In our work as team coaches, we’re not surprised by Google’s findings, but we know from experience that teams rarely focus enough on establishing norms. We live in a “ready, go, plan” environment. Many team leaders don’t know how to plan and establish explicit team norms. This absence of team norms likely leads to disruptive and time-wasting behavior.

This is often where a seasoned team coach can help. We prefer “plan, ready, go” and use the Team Emotional Intelligence tool to help teams create behavioral norms that will accelerate them from being just average to becoming great. Teams rarely focus in this sweet spot of emotionally intelligent norms but quickly realize that this is how they can get more traction while improving the quality of their relationships.

Thank you Google, and we look forward to your next quest!