NYT Article: What Makes the Perfect Team?

2 minute read

An article recently published by the New York Times Magazine highlighted research efforts by Google to answer the question “What Makes the Perfect Team?” The article resonated with me quite a bit as it articulated thoughts I have had while working on various teams throughout my career.

Culture of “Psychological Safety”

The key finding was that groups should aim to develop a culture of psychological safety, wherein group members feel comfortable to take risks and speak up without the concern of being punished or rejected. This group culture puts team members at ease, increases their sense of worth, and promotes both creativity and productivity within the group. Psychologically safe employees are comfortable being themselves at work, and consequently feel more engaged while working.

Psychological safety is encouraged by getting to know teammates and co-workers on a more personal level, developing empathy and understanding for one another in the process. Sharing lunch with co-workers shouldn’t be seen as a waste of time in this sense, but should be advocated for as a worthwhile investment towards group culture goals!

Two behaviors that were found to be indicative of a psychologically safe group culture are:

  1. Group members speak (roughly) the same amount during meetings, and no one talks over one another.

  2. Group members display a high level of social sensitivity (empathy).

Both behaviors demonstrate a culture of respect and understanding for fellow teammates, which leads to a safer and more positive experience for those involved.

A Make or Break Decision for Employee Engagement

I have absolutely experienced the consequences of being on teams with a psychologically unsafe culture: you feel drained at the end of the day and work more in isolation since seeking out feedback leads to being rebuked for “incorrect” (read “different”) decisions. Feelings of inadequacy and self doubt are common, although illogical.

It’s interesting how much team culture can affect an employee’s general sentiment about their workplace: which team you’re placed on can make or break your experience at a company.

What’s arguably more interesting is that employees often have very little input on their team placement.

If an employee doesn’t click with the culture of their assigned team, it could be perceived by a manager as a failure of the employee to assimilate. This may discourage employees from speaking up about a potentially bad fit, which is exactly the opposite behavior managers should encourage.

Managers assign employees to project teams based on factors like availability, not based on objective evidence that the selected members will work well together.

People Analytics

A people analytics platform such as Syndio’s can take the guesswork out of forming new teams.

Equipped with a network map of their workforce, and metrics that highlight which employees are good listeners, leaders, innovators and change agents, managers can make more strategic choices while composing teams to increase the likelihood of creating a psychologically safe group culture. This level of strategy is invaluable while planning for mission critical projects that cannot afford to be impeded by a dysfunctional group.

Syndio’s platform also detects which groups have lower than average workplace sentiment, indicating a group with potential culture issues. Red flags such as these enable managers to detect struggling teams earlier and course correct as needed.

People analytics provides the intelligence necessary to make informed decisions about who should work with whom. This will ultimately lead to more productive groups (employer benefit) and more satisfied group members (employee benefit).