Lessons From Google On Keys to Effective Teams

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Lessons From Google On Keys to Effective Teams

Great organizations constantly try to understand what makes them great…which is why I have written in the past about how Google does things, and how schools can learn from what they share.  Google is, by any measure, a great company: people love to work there, they design and develop products and services that positively impact lives, and they are financially (very) successful.

In an article by Michael Schneider, Google studied effective teams over several years.  Prior to this research, Schneider says, Google executives believed the traditional MBA mantra: the best teams are comprised of the most talented individuals.  But the research found this not to be the case. In fact, they found five characteristics of the most effective teams to almost identically mirror what colleague Julie Wilson and I have been pushing school colleagues to understand as we work to develop school teams capable of leading change. And, the list mirrors much of what I learned from listening to my daughter, Cassidy, talk about the highest performing team I have ever seen up close: the world champion USA National Women’s Volleyball program:

Dependability: Team members get things done on time and meet expectations.

Structure and clarity: High-performing teams have clear goals, and have well-defined roles within the group.

Meaning: The work has personal significance to each member.

Impact: The group believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good.

Psychological Safety: …everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers provide air cover and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard.

Nearly every educator and school team with which I have interacted over the last five years has said they want more time and freedom to collaborate with colleagues.  But effective collaboration is NOT a given; it takes the development of skills that many educators do not have. That is OK!  We can learn those skills, and then groups of individuals become vastly more effective than the sum of their parts. Lacking this skill development, educators at your school will end up just wasting a lot of time together, rather than alone.

I should note that this list from Google is not the only one I respect and tout. In 2015 I commented extensively on the work of Alex Pentland and his teams at MIT reported in his book Social Physics, which found that effective teams also demonstrated key patterns of internal communication, sharing, and social networking.  For school teams, this is “2.0” level work.

First, focus on ensuring that your teams, be they department or grade level groups, design teams, or the entire school community, learn and develop muscle in the five keys highlighted by Google. Your people will be both happier and more productive. One more lesson that Julie and I have learned from both successes and failures in helping school teams build these skills: like any great learning, one time through does not work. Building and exercising new muscles in effective teamwork requires frequent use, internal monitoring, time for reflection, and good feedback mechanisms. In other words, it takes practice.  Sounds a lot like what we tell our kids and our students!

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