Revealing the Secret Key of Team Productivity

Approximately four years ago, a few leading companies concluded that team output was much more important than individual performance. Now four years later, the need for greater team success is even more vital.

In 2012, I began lecturing on important research demonstrating that the leading factor found to predict higher team performance was intra-group socialization (i.e. when team members have a coffee together out of the office). I also tied team success to a culture of inter-personal respect, humility, and inclusion. These findings markedly contradicted the cultures of some companies that might be more narcissistic in style and less social in general.

However, recent research at Google has found that the key is based on more than intra-group socializationJulia Rozovsky noted that the whole story is more complicated than one factor, for in actuality, some groups with high socialization succeeded and some still failed. The answers to what differentiates team success continued to be difficult to identify.

In 2012, Google began a project named Aristotle to figure out why some teams stumble and others thrive. No matter what they looked for in individual members, there were no patterns that accurately predicted team success.

Google’s Aristotle concluded that understanding and influencing group norms were the keys to improving teams. They found that a high performing team was usually successful on all projects while low performing teams tended to produce inadequate results across the board. Aristotle found that in successful teams, members treated each other well by following the right norms. One norm observed to be present in successful teams included psychological safety manifesting as:

  • Equality of interpersonal disclosures between team members where each spoke for about the same amount of time; and
  • Higher social sensitivity where team members were skilled at intuiting how others thought (which further enhanced effective communication and empathy).

Therefore, the latest research findings confirm that the solution to optimal team performance is much more than intra-group socialization.  It includes egalitarian conversations in the teams along with respect and empathy helping to create psychological safety.  Aristotle demonstrated that teams creating psychological safety for members perform at much higher levels.

When I work with companies on fostering team output, leadership needs to get comfortable moving towards establishing psychological safety as a reinforced norm for its teams.  This is a significant research finding that identifies a new team intervention able to magnify organizational innovation and productivity.


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