How come some teams are successful and others aren’t? I’m sure we’ve all been in teams that work well and other teams that don’t, and if you’re like me being in a dysfunctional team is super frustrating. So what are the traits of high performance teams and how do we ensure that any team we are part of adopts these traits.

Google was inspired to conduct some research to codify the secrets of team effectiveness and to examine why some teams excelled whilst others fell behind, and what they discovered surprised them. .

Before this study, like many other organisations, Google Execs believed that building the best teams meant compiling the best people. It makes sense. The best engineer plus an MBA, throw in a PhD, and there you have it. The perfect team, right? However, in the words of Julia Rozovsky, Google’s people analytics manager, “We were dead wrong.”

Eager to find the perfect mixture of skills, backgrounds, and traits to engineer super-teams, Google put together a team of statisticians, organisational psychologists, sociologists, engineers, and researchers to help solve the puzzle. Over a two year period they studied 180 Google teams, conduct 200-plus interviews, and analysed over 250 different team attributes. However, at the end they still had no clear pattern of characteristics that could be plugged into a dream-team generating algorithm.

This is because they initially failed to consider the behaviours of the group and how that impacted the collective intelligence of the team.   It seems that the dynamic of how the team moves through the cycle of form – storm – norm – perform is pivotal to the ultimate success of the team.

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote by Aristotle, “The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts”  and intuitively we all know that two heads are better than one but it is how these two heads collaborate and inter-act together that determines the success of the group.  Great teamwork is not based on individual brilliance but rather on the dynamic and relationships that exist between the team members.

So here are the five traits of a high performing team that Google eventually identified:

  1. Dependability – Team members get things done on time and meet expectations.
  2. Structure and clarity – High-performing teams have clear goals, and have well-defined roles within the group.
  3. Meaning – The work has personal significance to each member.
  4. Impact – The group believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good.
  5. Psychological Safety – An environment where opinions are listened to and team members feel heard

I’m sure we’ve all been in meetings and, due to the fear of seeming incompetent, have held back questions or ideas. I know I have. It’s unnerving to feel like you’re in an environment where everything you do or say is under a microscope. But imagine a different setting,  a situation in which every team member feels safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers provide air cover and create safe zones so team members can let down their guard. That’s psychological safety.

Reviewing these five traits we can see that team success is as much to do with the team dynamics and the business culture as with individual skill sets.  In an age where teamwork is becoming increasingly important to respond to the uncertain world in which we live, the need to hire team members that are a good cultural and values fit is essential. Just imagine the impact of having someone in your team who is not aligned with the other team members.  Not only do they feel uncomfortable but they also impact the harmony of the group, and in the worst situation can negatively impact the entire team. John Maxwell refers to this as the “law of the bad apple”  and if not dealt with swiftly can cause silo mentality to develop within the team.

It is also interesting to note that the research highlighted that high performance teams feel like they are making an impact. In other words the team is purpose-driven. They exist to create an impact that this bigger then themselves and have some broader influence on the world.  Increasingly, I am coming across more and more people who are more consciously aware of their impact and want to be part of something that is making a difference in the world.  After all, in many ways we all want to make a contribution and be in service to others, as that just fulfils one of our basic human needs.

What contribution do you want to make and how does that impact how you show up in a team?  If you’d like to explore what your purpose is and how you can make a real difference in the world, then let’s have a powerful conversation, as I know when I unlocked my purpose it made a massive difference to my own self-worth and business success.



Julia Felton (aka The Business Wrangler) is a thought leader, author, international speaker, business strategist and Horse Assisted Educator. She works with ambitious, forward thinking business leaders who want to challenge the status quo and grow their business to the next level through developing skills that enable them to lead on-the-hoof, in todays uncertain environment.

As the Chief Experience Officer at Business HorsePower, she helps business leaders wrangle (round-up) all their business resources – plans, people, processes and personal leadership – so everything becomes aligned in its own business ecosystem. The results are leaders that have impact and influence and businesses which are purpose-driven, productive and profitable.

Julia’s innovative programmes are inspired by nature and her herd of horses, where no time or energy is wasted. Everything works in perfect harmony as an ecosystem. However, as Julia experienced during her 20 plus years of leading global teams and building a multi-million dollar business unit, this is rarely the norm.

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