Google’s Special High Performance Sauce

How Google identified the root cause of teams not performing equally

Tech leader Google realized that not all its teams were performing equally – which is a bit odd if you think about it. Google is full of smart and motivated people who are given abundant resources. Why wouldn’t all of their teams be high performers?

They hired a research team, that among other variables, considered characteristics of team members. They scrutinized the effects of age, ethnicity, background, education, and interests. Then they compared groups that socialized outside of work to groups that didn’t. The research team meticulously studied 180 teams and couldn’t find any rhyme or reason to why one team did better than another – for the first year.

The team followed a trail that started with something about group norms, to unwritten rules, to team culture. They knew that norms mattered, but which one was most influential? The secret sauce to super teams was alluding them.

Psychological safety – a missing key

After much digging through which group norms were striating group performance, they lit upon psychological safety. It was the missing key. We feel psychologically safe when we are sure that our teammates won’t embarrass or punish us (or anyone else) for asking a question, making a mistake, or suggesting a new idea. We are free to take risks.

The researchers found some other influencing factors. Here’s the list in order of importance:

1. Psychological Safety. The team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.

2. Dependability. Team members get things done on time and meet standards for excellence.

3. Structure and Clarity. Team members have clear roles, plans, and goals.

4. Meaning. Work is personally important to team members.

5. Impact. Team members think their work matters and creates change.

One-one interview with our leadership coach, Kathy Stoddard Torrey

Knowing the characteristics of a great team doesn’t create a great team. How does a leader infuse these five qualities into a team? We asked leadership expert Kathy Stoddard Torrey for practical things that leaders can implement. Torrey responded, “Creating an optimal team environment requires a lot of the team leader. The leader must be emotionally intelligent and goal-oriented.”

Torrey finds that many leaders are unsure how to implement Google’s published list of things a leader can do to foster psychological safety.  Her experience working with manufacturing teams, executive teams, medical teams and the Robert Dedman Leadership Institute affirm Google’s findings. She asserts that leaders who successfully focus on five essential skills and qualities foster a positive and productive culture.

Torrey’s recommendations for leaders

1. Use verbal and nonverbal communication to show they are present and that they care.

She notes, “No one cares what you know until they know that you care. It sounds like a platitude, but I find it to be very true.”

2. Enforce and model respect for self and others.

Being respectful includes listening to other people’s opinions, being dependable (trustworthy, including showing up on time), being reliable (consistently good), and not embarrassing or humiliating anyone.

3. Be inclusive. Inclusive leaders ensure others contribute to the decision-making process as much as possible, and they share the rationale for their decisions.

“Being inclusive means asking for feedback and keeping everyone in the loop as much as possible,” chimed Torrey.

4. Stay focused. Great leaders will keep the discussion and the process on track and moving forward.

Torrey declared, “It’s detrimental to allow a group to meander around without a purpose or goal. Effective leaders must run meetings, processes, and projects with an eye on the ultimate team goals. They ensure the team knows those goals and standards and how the team contributes to them.” She added, “Individuals are most effective when they feel that what they do has an impact; a leader must make the connection between the organization’s success and the actions that the team completes.”

5. Be positive. Being positive does not mean that the leader needs to maintain a constantly cheerful attitude. It means looking at people and events in a positive light as much as possible.

“Being positive covers a lot of territory,” explained Torrey. “It includes actively looking for the good things that people are doing and commenting on them. It means looking at failure as a learning experience instead of the end of the world. A positive leader expresses gratitude for a job well-done.”

She says that the list is doable, but it requires new behaviors for some leaders. “Behavior change is difficult if one tries to do it alone,” Torrey said.

Torrey shares, “Some leaders can become more positive or focused or aware of their own nonverbal communication on their own. However, most people find change easier and faster if they have someone to help. I’ve seen coaching help people make amazing transformations.”

New Managers Coach

Kathy Torrey is just one of Drona’s many top tier coaches who help companies increase productivity and decrease waste. Her credentials include an MBA and certifications from the Coaches Training Institute, the Center for Right Relationship, and the International Coach Federation. She specializes in leadership training and coaching.

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