The results of a Google study into high performance teams – Project Aristotle – are described in this article. They identify five key characteristics to look out for: Dependability, Structure and Clarity, Meaning, Impact, and Psychological safety.
Looking at this list, many are either direct or indirect results of the management and leadership AROUND the teams…as well as what the team creates for itself. So in a sense, these elements are not just the characteristics of the team themselves, BUT also they are the characteristics of the leadership context around them. Not sure if Google took this into account in their study, but hopefully the comments below amplify my thinking…
In summary though, looking at the success factors of high performance teams tends to implicitly focus inside the team. Which for many leaders means that they are looking at the team, rather than themselves and how they create the environment and context that will allow these success factors to flourish. In my opinion, if you do that, you will make a big mistake…
1. Dependability – if you have an organization where this is not rewarded strongly, you will have teams where some members consistently under-deliver. And they get away with it…I’ve lost count of the number of teams that I have worked with where there is at least one ‘passenger’, everyone knows it…and nothing is done about it
2. Structure and clarity – can be developed by an autonomous team, but at the same time it is also a direct result of external framing, connection with strategy of the business, and so on. Before any program, I like to ask a team how their work will connect to the strategic aims of a business – it usually is a conversation which is initially divergent, and then converges
3. Meaning – this is kinda related to ‘2’, and also is slightly dependent on the type of business you are in; many find it is easier to find meaning in developing a medical device, than in formulating tomorrow’s new soda. Nevertheless, leadership can find ways to help develop meaning with team members, and they should, at the very least, check in to find out how the team members feel about their work. And, OK, sometimes it comes down to “suck it up, and something more interesting will come around next time”.
4. Impact – whenever I hear or read the phrase “The greater good…” it reminds me of the film ‘Hot Fuzz’, where it was more of an incantation and rationale for all sorts of bizarre (and violent) behavior – in a comedic context, of course. Leadership can help create these links.
5. Psychological safety – team norms are a key part of achieving this goal, but also the context that is set for the teams is crucial. It is interesting to see in the emerging ventures/incubation/lean start-up efforts that are sprouting up in the corporate world that ‘fail fast’ is much more accepted, together with the acknowledgement that ventures IMPLIES some level of expected failure. So again, the context that leadership provides is crucial.